A standard part of police traffic stops where the officer suspects drinking and driving is the administration of field sobriety tests. Police and prosecutors say these tests are scientific and can accurately determine if someone is intoxicated. But critics say that these tests are often too subjective and improperly administered to be used as evidence in criminal court.

In field sobriety testing, there are three methods included in the Standardized Field Sobriety Test endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Highway Safety Administration. These are:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test
  • Walk-and-turn test
  • One-leg stand test

For the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the officer orders the subject to stand in front of them. While passing a finger in front of the subject’s face, the officer instructs the subject to follow it with their gaze, without moving their head. The officer watches the driver’s eyes for signs of involuntary jerks, or nystagmus, which become more pronounced after drinking alcohol.

The walk-and-turn test requires you to walk along a straight line, often the shoulder line on the highway, for a certain number of steps. When you reach the last step, you must turn around on one foot and return. This is supposed to test your balance and coordination. So does the one-leg stand test, in which you are told to lift one foot off the ground and count to 30 seconds. Things like swaying, having to put your foot down, or using your arms to balance are considered evidence of alcohol impairment.

Many police and sheriff’s departments use additional tests, like having you perform math problems or recite the portions of the alphabet backward.

The problems with field sobriety tests

These tests have received a lot of criticism over the years. For one thing, critics say, whether or not a driver has passed the tests is up to the police officer who pulled them over. The tests are mostly subjective, and the driver is at the mercy of the officer’s experience, knowledge, and judgment. Another issue is that officers often fail to account for non-alcohol reasons someone could fail a field sobriety test, such as a disability or bad weather.

Challenge issues with your drunk driving arrest

In Green Bay, if you were arrested as the result of improperly done field sobriety tests, you may be able to get the OWI charges dropped — if you are working with an experienced defense attorney.