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Field Sobriety Tests-What do they really tell you?

Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2012 by Andrew Charles Huff

Most of us are familiar with these roadside exercises called Field Sobriety Tests (FST’s) that police officers will administer to people who are suspected of driving under the influence (DUI). We usually envision a motorist pulled over and asked to stand on one foot or touch the end of their nose, always while traffic is whizzing by just feet away with a biased officer staring straight at them while shining a flashlight in their face. Not exactly the ideal conditions to perform roadside agility tests. Besides, what does walking a pretend tightrope have to do with driving a vehicle? The official answer is these tests supposedly measure ones balance and coordination, two traits needed to control a vehicle. There are scientific studies out there conducted for the purpose of showing these exercises are an accurate measure of these traits. But how are the “other factors” taken into consideration, such as nervousness, being cold, naturally poor balance or even that pesky ankle injury you keep tweaking while playing pick-up basketball? The answer? They’re not. Why? Police officers are not trained how to take such factors into consideration. These “one size fits all” exercises are given to everyone in the same proscribed manner regardless of a persons size, weight, balance issues, poor eyesight, bad leg, etc. Besides an eye test or Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN, police officers routinely use the Walk and Turn test and One Leg Stand test, two physical exercises conducted in a usually tough environment, alongside a road and usually at night. So why not simply ask a person to walk normally 10 steps, turn and walk back as they usually would. Then if a person had trouble doing that, well that would truly tell you something about whether or not they were impaired. But for now, get used to seeing a people standing on one leg and counting to 30 while trying not to notice oncoming headlights. And if you do see them, try not to honk.

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