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Attorney Bryan E. Cameron

The three standard field sobriety tests and defenses

On Behalf of | Apr 26, 2022 | DUI

A driver in Sayville, New York, suspected of DUI may get pulled over by police and get checked. Many officers conduct field sobriety tests, and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledges three as standard.

Standard field sobriety tests

The NHTSA selection of standard testing for DUI is based on research. The horizontal nystagmus gaze tests checks the eyes by having the driver follow an object, such as a finger.

The officer watches for smooth following, involuntary jerking, or nystagmus, at a 45-degree angle, and maximum deviation. Maximum deviation occurs within four seconds after the eye has moved all the way to one side.

The walk-and-turn test instructs the driver to take nine steps in a straight line, walking heel-to-toe. They begin when told, keeping their arms at their sides, turning on one leg, and repeating the test in the other direction. The officer watches for eight cues, including swaying, starting the test before being told, and balancing with the arms.

The one-leg stand test involves the driver standing with one foot about six inches off the ground and balancing for 30 seconds. The officer checks for swaying, using the arms for balance, hopping, and putting the foot down early.

Defenses to field sobriety tests

A common defense to field sobriety tests is a medical condition that may make the test hard for sober drivers. Weak vision, weight, age, inner ear infections, and musculoskeletal disorders can cause sober drivers to fail tests.

Officers need training on how to conduct the tests properly and stay updated, so the defense could challenge this. The NHTSA gives specific instructions on how the tests should be administered, so they should not omit steps. The officer should also ask the driver to remove high heels, demonstrate the test, and ask if they understand directions.

A driver in New York doesn’t face penalties for refusing to take field sobriety tests. If they took the tests, there’s always a chance of an officer making mistakes that could invalidate them.