Field Sobriety Tests
If you are pulled over for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas, one of the first things the police officer will do is ask you to take a field sobriety test. These tests are used to determine whether or not a driver is impaired.
There are many tests that the officer may administer, but there are only three that are recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These three tests are known as Standardized Field Sobriety tests. These tests were developed in the late 1970s by the NHTSA, and were first used by law enforcement agencies in 1981.
One of these tests is referred to as the Walk-and-Turn test. This is known as a divided attention test, and it consists of two stages. The first is the instruction stage and the second is the walking stage. During the instruction phase, the driver stands with his or her feet in heel-to-toe position while keeping his or her hands to the side. He or she must stay this way until the instructions are given. During the walking stage, the driver must walk nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, then walk back nine steps, counting aloud the entire time.
The officer is looking for eight clues while the driver is taking the test. These include: lack of balance during instructions, starting too soon, stopping while walking, not touching heel to toe, stepping off the line, using arms for balance, losing balance on turn, taking an incorrect number of steps. Any driver who shows two or more of these signs will fail the test. The scoring is completely objective.
According to the NHSTA, this test is 68% accurate when administered according to the guidelines.
The One-Legged Stand test is another divided attention test. To perform this test, the driver must raise one leg approximately six inches off of the ground, with his or her toes pointed out, keeping the legs straight. The driver must then count out loud while looking at the elevated foot until asked to stop by the officer.
The officer is looking for clues of intoxication during this test. They are: swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping, putting the foot down. Again, if the driver exhibits two or more clues, he or she fails the test.
This test is 65% accurate when administered correctly.
The third test is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye that normally occurs as a person looks to the side. This jerking becomes more noticeable when a person is impaired.
To administer the test, the officer will have the driver follow a small object with his or her eyes. The officer watches to see if the driver is able to follow the object smoothly. He or she is also watching to see if Nystagmus occurs before the eyes reach a 45 degree angle and if the eye jerks distinctly when the driver is looking as far to the side as possible.
This test is often not administered properly. However, when it is administered properly, it is only 77% accurate.
If you have recently taken and failed a field sobriety test in Texas, it is important that you contact a DWI defense attorney as soon as you can. A DWI conviction carries penalties such as jail time, fines, and a driver’s license suspension.