How accurate are field sobriety tests?

Like most California drivers, you likely know that the state can come down hard on someone accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. While few people would argue that protecting people from the danger of a truly intoxicated and negligent driver is important, it is equally important that all drivers’ rights are protected. Not everyone arrested for drunk driving is actually guilty and it is good for people to know that the tests used during a DUI arrest may not always be accurate.

FieldSobrietyTests.org explains that there are three standardized tests that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has approved for law enforcement to use as an initial screening during a potential drunk driving arrest. These are the walk and turn test, the one leg stand test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Instead of proving intoxication, these field sobriety tests give officers the evidence that they need to legally arrest you and charge you with suspected drunk driving. Yet, these tests are not 100-percent accurate.

The maximum accuracy rate of the field sobriety tests is 82 percent and that requires that all three tests be administered following the NHTSA’s directions exactly. Individual test accuracy rates are 65 percent for the one leg stand test, 68 percent for the walk and turn test and 77 percent for the eye gaze test. 

This information is not intended to provide legal advice but is instead meant to help California residents who have been charged with drunk driving offenses know that the field sobriety tests they may have taken are not always accurate and may offer them valid defense options.

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