National Standards for the SFST Program

The following provides an outline of the development of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST). Since the mid 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with the cooperation and assistance of the law enforcement community, has conducted research that resulted in the development of a battery of three standardized field sobriety tests. These tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn and the one leg stand. They assist police officers in detecting impaired drivers.

Program Beginnings

The program, previously termed the improved sobriety testing, got validated in laboratory and field studies conducted by the Southern California Research Institute. Also, the Los Angeles Police Department started these tests. The methodology of conducting these tests is included in the NHTSA course “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.”

In 1986, the Advisory Committee on Highway Safety of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) passed a resolution. This resolution recommended that law enforcement agencies adopt and implement developed by NHTSA.

Expanding the Program

As the program grew, it became apparent that in order to insure continued success, it needed nationally accepted standards. Standardization that established criteria for the selection and training of SFST practitioners would help insure the continued high level of success of the SFST program. In 1992, the IACP Highway Safety Committee recommended the development of this system of nationally accepted standards.

In April of 1992, the IACP and NHTSA sponsored a meeting at the headquarters of IACP in Arlington, Virginia. Persons invited to this meeting included SFST instructors from several states, curriculum specialists and training administrators. The participants met in working groups to reach a consensus concerning the many issues relating to the SFST program. They also met to develop recommended minimum standards to the IACP Advisory Committee on Highway Safety. The standards went to the committee for their review at the midyear meeting in June 1992.

Sobriety Tests Training

The Advisory Committee on Highway Safety by resolution adopted the National Standards for the SFST Program. Voting membership of the IACP subsequently approved the Standards. To maintain the credibility and integrity of the program, agencies that use a training program other than one currently approved by the IACP must have the alternative curriculum approved. It must get approved by the IACP Advisory Committee on Highway Safety as meeting the required learning objectives. This is supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Presently, SFST Training for Police officers (and the few DUI Defense Attorneys, including Attorney Ruane, who learned the regimen) must last for 16 hours. They have to include at least two controlled drinking sessions utilizing volunteer drinkers. This is in accordance with section 1.2 of the Standards for Training in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. In section 1.4, in order to satisfactorily complete the classroom portion of the training, SFST candidates must complete the IACP-approved final examination. They have to get a score of not less than eighty percent.

Candidates scoring less than 80% on the final may re-test one time under the supervision of a SFST instructor. The retest should happen no less than 15 days and no more than 30 days following the completion of the classroom training. The examination used shall not have gotten administered to the candidate previously. If the candidate does not achieve a passing score on reexamination, the candidate must retake the classroom portion of the training. Also, they have to pass the final examination.

Testing Rules

The U.S. DOT requires 35 practice tests within a six month period. But, local and State Police have varying requirements based on their own department’s criteria. A refusal of a chemical test cannot constitute a practice test. This is because a blood alcohol reading must corroborate the evaluation of the suspect. The officer gets trained to conduct the HGN test last during his practice test period. He or she should not formulate an opinion based on the results or use it for probable cause to arrest.

At no time may a person that is tested be used more than once on a practice test. It is necessary to review the documentation of the practice tests. This happens in order to determine if the practitioner was properly recommended for certification.

Administering the Tests

After probable cause gets determined, an officer will most often attempt to recover more evidence that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. An officer may ask a person to perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. In every state you do not have to take field sobriety tests. But, keep in mind that in each state the law is different regarding whether or not you have to consent to a blood breath or urine test.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, usually conducted on the side of the road, do nothing to prove your sobriety. In many cases, they can hurt your defense. The officer cannot force you to do these tests, so politely decline. However, in Connecticut, while you do not have to take a blood, breath or urine test, a refusal will trigger a longer DMV administrative suspension. If an officer tells you he will let you go if you take them, you should still decline. They can only add to the probable cause for your arrest.

Psychological Tests

Psychological Tests Within SFST must meet three criteria. This criteria is (1) Reliability, (2) Standardization, and (3) Validity.

Tests are used by a variety of professionals, including psychologists, special education teachers, guidance counselors, psychiatrists, speech therapists, nurses, and engineers.

Psychological Tests Within SFST should require evaluation of the subject’s appearance and condition, ability to follow instructions, as well as balance and coordination. These types of tests are called Divided Attention Tests. They require the subject to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. This divides the subject’s attention between mental and physical tasks. Studies have shown that a person who is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage may be able to perform one of these tasks but rarely both.


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