If you are like most motorists, you avoid the police like the plague when you are driving. Nothing puts a damper on your day like being pulled over and ticketed by the police. If you have consumed even a single alcoholic beverage, however, the annoyance of being pulled over turns into fear of being arrested and charged with driving under the influence. If you do find yourself along the side of the road with a police officer questioning you about your level of sobriety the worst thing you can do is panic. Knowing what to expect helps. For example, you will almost surely be asked to perform a series of “field sobriety tests.” In theory, these tests are designed to indicate whether a subject is under the influence of drugs or alcohol; however, the reality is that few people actually pass the field sobriety tests, whether they are sober or not.
Most law enforcement departments require an officer to use the standardized field sobriety tests that have been approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA. Those tests include the following
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test — according to the NHTSA, “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. Under normal circumstances, nystagmus occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. However, when a person is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles. An alcohol-impaired person will also often have difficulty smoothly tracking a moving object.” The HGN test involves the officer using a pen light, or similar instrument, and asking the subject to track it as it is moved from the center of the subject’s field of vision over to one side and back. When administered properly, and graded objectively, the HGN test can be relatively accurate at detecting impairment. Unfortunately, it is often not administered properly and the officer decides if you passed – the same officer who pulled you over ad is now trying to prove that you are impaired.
- Walk and turn – a subject it required to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The directions can be confusing even if you are completely sober.
- One leg stand – a subject must stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. Simple nerves can cause you to lose your balance and fail the test.
Each of these tests can easily be failed by a driver who is simply nervous, not impaired.