Understanding field sobriety tests

California's laws on drunk driving are intended to keep people safe by keeping impaired drivers off the road. To determine if someone is impaired there are various factors the officer uses and considers. Among these factors is the actual driving observed,

Understanding field sobriety tests can help you understand the process if you find yourself being pulled over or contacted and facing a potential DUI arrest. Penalties for a drunk driving conviction can have serious and long-lasting impact on a person's life, including possible custody, fines, programs and loss of license. Losing the right to drive for six months after a first conviction and two years after a second conviction in 10 years can make getting to and from work a real challenge. In many cases there is the availability of a restricted license for work if the individual meets certain requirements.

How is impairment determined?

When officers suspect a driver may be impaired, they look at the driving, objective symptoms, chemical tests and field sobriety tests. They always request a suspect to take field sobriety tests unless the individual is too impaired to safely do them. FieldSobrietyTests.org indicates that these tests are designed to provide law enforcement additional information to evaluate impairment and for probable cause for arrest.

The results of these FSTs (field sobriety tests) obviously vary with the individual, their age, physical condition, and any environmental factors. An elderly person would do far worse than a college athlete, that is why the tests do are subject to interpretation by the officer based on all of the factors. The tests are far from perfect, however, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that the eye test has a 77 percent accuracy rate, the walk-and-turn test has a 66 percent accuracy rate and the one-leg stand test has a 65 percent accuracy rate.

What is the eye test?

In the eye test, a person is to follow an object moved by an officer without any movement of the head, only the eyes. Specific jerking motions of the eyeball are said to be indicators of potential impairment.

What is the walk-and-turn test?

In the walk-and-turn test, a person must keep arms at your side, take nine steps touching heel-to-toe then turning around and coming back. Taking more or less than nine steps, using arms for balance, not touching heel to toe, not turning properly or even pausing may be thought to show impairment.

What is the one-leg test?

In the one-leg test, a person's balance is put to the test. Again, arms must be kept at the side as one foot is lifted about six inches in the air. Eyes must focus on the raised foot while counting until an officer says otherwise. Any swaying, putting a foot down or hopping may be interpreted as potential impairment.

There are also other field sobriety tests with specific instructions like touching the tip of your nose, hand clap, finger touch, alphabet, estimating 30 seconds and counting. All these tests have been used in the past, and some continue to be used to evaluate a driver's impairment by considering their mental ability to follow instructions, physical ability and coordination in addition to objective symptoms and chemical tests.

FIELD SOPREITY TESTS ARE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT IN DRUG DUI CASES

A driver's impairment with a drug related DUI is not defined as clearly as alcohol. A blood test with a drug DUI shows the type of drug and its levels. Many drugs do not have as clear a specific level where impairment begins. That is why field sobriety tests are particularly important in the evaluation of a drug DUI suspect.

If arrested and charged with drunk driving, California drivers should reach out to a DUI defense attorney to review their case so they understand possible defenses, resolutions, court procedures, driver's license issues and DMV actions.