Field sobriety tests have become popular throughout the United States. On this page, you can learn more about the tests that you may be asked to take if the police suspect that you are driving under the influence of alcohol.
Psychological tests are a certain type of field sobriety tests. They must meet three criteria: Reliability, standardization, and validity. Many professionals use the tests. This includes psychologists, special education teachers, guidance counselors, psychiatrists, speech therapists, nurses, and engineers.
Psychophysical tests should require evaluation of the subject’s appearance and condition. It also considers ability to follow instructions, balance, and coordination. These types of tests go by 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 show that a person under the influence may perform one of these tasks but rarely both. If under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, people are likely to make certain predictable errors while attempting these tasks.
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Since the mid 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted research that resulted in the development of a battery of three standardized field sobriety tests. These tests consist of horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn, and the one leg stand. They assist police officers in detecting impaired drivers.
Sobriety Testing History
The program used to go by the improved sobriety testing. It got validated in laboratory and field studies conducted by the Southern California Research Institute. The Los Angeles Police Department developed 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. The resolution recommended that law enforcement agencies adopt and implement these sobriety tests. As the program grew, it became apparent that in order to ensure continued success, they needed nationally accepted standards.
Standardization that established criteria for the selection and training of SFST practitioners would help. It would ensure 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 and to develop recommended minimum standards to the IACP Advisory Committee on Highway Safety. The standards were drafted and presented to the committee for their review at the midyear meeting in June 1992.
The Advisory Committee on Highway Safety by resolution adopted the National Standards for the SFST Program. Then, voting membership of the IACP subsequently approved the standards. In order to maintain the credibility and integrity of the program, agencies that use a training program other than the IACP must have the alternative curriculum 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 have been taught the regimen) must be 16 hours in length and 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 with a score of not less than eighty percent. Candidates scoring less than 80% on the final may retest one time under the supervision of a SFST instructor.
The retest should happen not less than 15 days and not more than 30 days following the completion of the classroom training, and the examination used shall not have been 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 and pass the final examination.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
After probable cause is determined, an officer will most often attempt to recover more evidence that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and 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 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, and oftentimes 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.
The following provides a basic overview of the field testing. Generally there are three “tests” administered on scene. These tests consist of the walk and turn, the one leg stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. The three tests most often go together. They have shown 93% accuracy in Colorado in 1995, 95% accuracy in Florida in 1997 and 91% accuracy in San Diego in 1998. But, many scientists refute the validity of these tests.
The horizontal gaze nystagmus is still the most accurate of the three. This test can “provide valid indications to support arrest decisions at 0.08 and strongly suggests that it can provide valid indication of 0.04 and above.” When the horizontal gaze combines with the walk and turn, some say it has 80% accuracy. But, when tested with all three, a higher degree of accuracy exists. These three tests, however, have never been subject to peer review. Peer review is the process in which scientists publish their methods and results to other persons in their field. This allows for critical analysis of the data and results.
Taking Field Tests
Field testing will most often occur on the side of the road. Field testing happens after one gets suspected of being under the influence. The results of the test will help the officer to support evidence if they find you under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Understand that you do not have to take field tests.
You can simply tell the officer that you do not wish to take the tests. Remember to be polite with the officer because it can only help you later. Still, refraining from field tests is your right. You don’t have to take them and in most cases will only hinder you when it comes time for court. Conditions for field testing are often not ideal. These conditions include uneven ground, poor lighting, weather, and inappropriate clothing.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) are psychophysical tests. A test consists of an “objective” and “standardized” measure of a sample of behavior, focusing on three elements:
1) Objectivity. Aspects of a test have basis in objective criteria, such as the scoring or the interpretation of the score, and not influenced by the subjective opinion of examiner.
2) Standardization. There is uniformity of procedure in the administration, scoring and interpretation of the test and results.
3) Behavior Sample. A representative sample of a person’s behavior from which one can draw inferences and hypotheses.
A test is not a psychological x-ray, nor does it necessarily reveal hidden conflicts and forbidden wishes.
Psychological tests must meet three criteria. These criteria are (1) Reliability, (2) Standardization, and (3) Validity. Many professionals use these tests. These professionals include psychologists, special education teachers, guidance counselors, psychiatrists, speech therapists, nurses, and engineers.
Psychophysical tests should require evaluation of many factors. These factors include the subject’s appearance and condition, ability to follow instructions, as well as balance and coordination. These types of tests go by the name divided attention tests. This is because 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. If under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, people are likely to make certain predictable errors while attempting these tasks.
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 field sobriety tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn, and the one leg stand. They assist police officers in detecting impaired drivers.