Field sobriety tests may not be accurate

Field sobriety tests are commonly used by law enforcement, but they rely on human judgment and a sober person could be falsely arrested.

Law enforcement in Pennsylvania uses a number of different methods to prevent drunk driving. These might include public education campaigns; chemical testing that involves measuring the amount of alcohol in a driver's breath, blood or urine; or field sobriety tests. It is possible to get a false positive during any type of test, but drivers may have more of a risk of being falsely accused of a crime during a field sobriety test.

What is a field sobriety test?

First, it may help to understand the details that make up a field sobriety test. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three portions make up the standard field sobriety test. These including the following:

• The walk-and-turn. During this test, a driver will be asked to walk in a straight line, then turn around and walk back in the same direction he or she started from.

• The one-leg stand. A driver will need to stand on one foot during this test while counting out loud to 30 and not losing his or her balance.

• The horizontal gaze nystagmus. An intoxicated person's eye movements are usually more pronounced and jerky, and a police officer will check for this sign during a field sobriety test.

An officer may also pay attention to a driver's speech, the smell of his or her breath and other clues that may signal that he or she has been drinking.

How do police officers determine intoxication during the test?

A law enforcement officer will look for a driver losing his or her balance, putting one foot down during the one-leg stand and using the arms to balance. Not correctly following directions may be another red flag that could be used against the driver.

Can I fail a field sobriety test if I had nothing to drink?

There may be some instances when a sober person could be mistaken for driving while intoxicated. For example, the driver might have a cognitive or physical impairment that is easily mistaken for intoxication. These might include an injury or illness that makes it difficult to walk. An inner ear infection could affect a driver's balance, or a speech impediment might mimic intoxicated speech. A driver might just be nervous and have difficulty understanding instructions or performing the tests correctly.

If you were arrested during a field sobriety test, you have the right to have your side of the story heard in court. An experienced DUI defense attorney should be able to advise you of your options and make sure your rights are protected.