Here’s why you should decline field sobriety testing

On Behalf of | Sep 30, 2022 | DUI Defense |

You’ve just been pulled over for a minor traffic violation, and the officer is clearly suspicious that you’ve been drinking. They ask you to take a field sobriety test.

You may not realize this, but – unlike a chemical blood alcohol content (BAC) test – you’re under no legal obligation to agree. Even though the officer may behave as if field sobriety tests are simply a matter of routine or imply that they’re required, you’re free to refuse without penalty.

And, so you should. Field sobriety tests aren’t really designed to be passed. If anything, they’re designed to be failed, so that an officer can then justify the use of a chemical BAC test, like a Breathalyzer.

Are field sobriety tests really that bad?

According to studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the three most commonly used field sobriety tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-legged stand test. Combined together and administered by a properly trained officer under ideal conditions, they are about 82% accurate at identifying intoxicated drivers.

That sounds impressive until you realize that nearly two out of 10 subjects will be erroneously identified as drunk drivers. If you don’t like those odds, consider this: An officer is unlikely to use all three tests, and the accuracy rates can plummet to around 65% when only one test is used.

Worse still, that 65% accuracy rate is still only what you’re likely to see under pristine testing conditions, which is certainly not what you’re going to have when:

  • You’re at the side of the road, in traffic
  • You’re on uneven ground
  • The weather is windy, rainy or cold and distracting
  • You are fatigued from a long day at work
  • You have any kind of sinus issue, allergies or a cold that could affect your hearing or balance
  • You’re nervous or scared

Here’s the reality: You can and should decline to participate in testing that only leads to more trouble. If the officer doesn’t have enough reasonable suspicion to demand a chemical BAC test, you could be handing them what they need. Your refusal to submit to roadside sobriety testing can’t be used against you in court, and you can fight any drunk driving charges much more easily.

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