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How police use field sobriety tests for drunk driving arrests

When a Texas police officer suspects that a person might be driving under the influence of alcohol, the officer will likely ask that driver to submit to a series of roadside tests. These field sobriety tests are meant to help responding officers determine if further action is warranted, but the results are highly subjective and up to individual interpretation. Here is a better understanding of what field sobriety tests look like and how they might affect an officer's decision to make a drunk driving arrest.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration endorses the Standardized Field Sobriety Test, which involves three different tests. One of those three is Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, during which an officer will try to notice if a person's eyes are involuntarily jerking. A driver will usually be asked to follow a moving object while the officer observes the driver's eye movement.

The Walk and Turn is another component of the SFST. Officers ask drivers to take a total of nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, then to turn on one foot and repeat the same process on the way back. This is meant to measure a driver's ability to adequately complete a task while his or her attention is divided.

The One-Leg Stand rounds out the final aspect of these roadside tests. In this test, drivers are asked to remain standing on one foot while they count out 30 seconds. If drivers sway, hop around or use their arms for balance, they can still fail the test even if they never put their foot down.

Since the results of all of these performance-based tests are up to interpretation by the administering officer, it is possible that some drivers could be wrongly accused of drunk driving. This can be especially upsetting since DUI charges can affect every facet of a person's life, including the ability to continue driving to and from work. Texas defendants who are worried about the results of their own field sobriety tests should take timely action on the matter since these charges tend to proceed quite rapidly.

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John M. Petruzzi, Attorney at Law
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