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Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Tennessee

Field sobriety tests are physical coordination tests that are often administered to drivers suspected of driving under the influence. You are not required to submit to a field sobriety test and you may kindly refuse the officer’s request. The National highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) created the standard field sobriety test. The test uses three tests in combination: the One-leg-Stand Test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test and the Walk and Turn Test. The One-Leg Stand Test requires an officer to instruct the suspect to stand with his feet together and arms at his side, and demonstrate that he can stand with one foot about six inches off the ground and count for thirty seconds. If the suspect sways while balancing, uses his arms to balance or hops or puts his foot down while counting, these are signs of impairment.

The horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test observes whether there is involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally when the eye gazes to the side. However, this jerking is exaggerated when an individual has been drinking and is impaired by alcohol. Officers look for three indicators of impairment in each eye: inability to follow a moving object smoothly, distinct eye jerking when the eye is at maximum deviation and eye-jerking within forty-five degrees of center.

Lastly, the Walk and Turn Test requires the suspect to complete tasks with divided attention. The suspect is required to take nine steps, heel to toe, along a straight line; turn one foot; and then return in the same manner in the opposite direction.

However, there are other tests that Tennessee police officers may utilize which are not standardized by the NHTSA. These tests include, the finger to nose test, the finger count test, backward count test and the alphabet test.

The standardized test is deemed to be most reliable according to the NHTSA and can be a DUI defense where the standardized test is not used. However, even when the test is used there are errors: the test was developed to assist police officers in determining whether a DUI arrest was appropriate, not as evidence of whether a motorist was intoxicated. When the three tests are combined, the standard field sobriety test accurately indicates alcohol impairment in ninety-one percent of all cases according to the 1998 data from the NHTSA. However, that means that an officer is still incorrect in nine out of 100 field sobriety tests. Further, not every officer who administers the test are properly trained to do so. Any of the foregoing reasons can be used to challenge a field sobriety test.


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