DWI Field Sobriety Tests

DWI Field Sobriety Tests

There are three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests in Texas. These tests were studied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration, or NHTSA. They conducted series of studies designed to identify impaired drivers -- prior to chemical testing. In other words, the tests help an officer determine whether to continue a DWI investigation, and ultimately make an arrest.

The field sobriety tests were established in an attempt to gauge a person's divided attention with a series of physical and mental tasks. One of the goals of NHTSA was to standardize the field sobriety tests for use across the USA, which would allow for conclusions to be drawn from testing results. Source. As such, there are currently three standardized Field Sobriety Tests in Texas, recommended by NHTSA:

  • One-Leg Stand
  • Walk-and-Turn
  • Horizontal Gaze

Problems with Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests have significant problems, some of which are actually address in the NHTSA literature. It's important to understand that you are not required to perform any of the Field Sobriety Tests, and there is no license suspension based on failure to do them. Of course, the officer will consider that a failure and take you to jail (please see DWI Refusals for more information on your rights and what you may refuse.)

These Things Will Affect Your DWI Field Sobriety Tests

  • Past or current injuries to leg or knee;
  • Head Trauma or Injury (such as accident);
  • injuries to the back;
  • being overweight;
  • Age;
  • Fear, Anxiety, and Nervousness;
  • Inner-ear Problems;
  • lack of sleep;
  • Natural Lack of Coordination and Balance;
  • Shoes or Heels;
  • Location (Traffic, Uneven, Gravel/Dirt, Weather, Wind, Patrol Car Lights)

Attorney Robert Keates has dedicated his legal career helping the accused fight for their rights in DWI and criminal cases. He understands that the majority of first time DWI offenders have never been in trouble with the law before. In fact, many people have never received a traffic ticket. DWI can happen to anyone, and the Keates Law Firm is here to help.


Texas Field Sobriety Tests

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmous (HGN) DWI Field Sobriety Test

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmous (HGN) is a test where officers have you follow their finger or a small object with your eyes. The officer looks for a small, involuntary jerking of the pupil when your gaze reaches the corners of your vision. Generally, your gaze is smooth as it flows left to right, but if there's alcohol in your system, the gaze becomes choppy as you scan left to right. Your pupil will slighly bounce. When an officer sees this bouncing, they will claim it's due to alcohol and you're impaired. They check for a lack of smooth pursuit by your eyes, distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, and lastly the angle of onset of nystagmus prior to forty-five degrees.

Again, the problem here is that Horizontal Gaze Nystagmous (HGN) is not soley caused by alcohol. Studies have found that Horizontal Gaze Nystagmous (HGN) is present for at least 50+ reasons or causes, and only one of them is alcohol.


Walk and Turn Test DWI Field Sobriety Test

The Walk-and-Turn requires a person to walk nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, then turn and repeat the process. Before a person begins the Walk and Turn Test, the officer gives a detailed list of instruction, one after another. It's a long list of what to do, that most people could not recall, even sober. Among other things, a person is told to: keeping arms at sides, counting steps out loud, and constantly watch the feet. Take 9 steps, starting with one foot, and make sure each step is heel to toe. Turn with a series of small half steps, and spin, still watching feet and keeping hands at side. The officer looks for any cues that might show an error in the test or not following instructions, such as:

"(1) have trouble balancing during the initial instructions, (2) start the test too soon, (3) stop while walking, (4) use your arms for balance, (5) don�t touch heel-to-toe, (6) take the wrong number of steps, (7) step off the line, and/or (8) lose your balance during the turn or turn incorrectly."

This test is instantly flawed when you realize that an officer must add their own subjective judgement in determining whether a person satisfactorily completed the test. Also, the same set of external factors can influence the results -- plus the person's physical characteristics (age, overeright, injury...).


One Leg Stand Test DWI Field Sobriety Test

The one leg stand has two parts: raising and holding your leg up, and counting to 30. Basically, the officer will instruct you to stand, with you feet together and arms at your side. Then, you raise one leg off the ground 6 inches high and count to 30 seconds. During the test, you need to keep your arms at your side and not use them for balance. Some officers will ask you to close your eyes, or tilt you head backwards, or other offshoots of non-standardized tests. During the test, the officer will note anything that is not correct, such as hopping, swaying, using arms for balance, placing your foot on the ground, or losing count.

As you can imagine, this test is not terribly easy for sober people, especially if you consider physical limitations of some participants (overweight, age, injuries), and take into account variances in the external influences (uneven or unpaved ground, crowded area with people watching, nervousness, poor light, police presence, etc...).


Non-Standard DWI Tests DWI Field Sobriety Tests

There are other tests that are not recommended by NHTSA, such as saying the alphabet backwards, counting backwards or by 2's, trivia, tilting your head back and balancing, and more. These tests have little to no correlation to impairment, which is why NHTSA decided to exclude them from their studies.





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