How hard is it to pass a field sobriety test?

Field sobriety tests are commonly used by law enforcement. However, they are not always entirely accurate.

The holiday season, known as one of the prime times of the year for drinking and driving, has come and gone, but law enforcement in North Carolina continues to be on the lookout for those who drink and drive. One of the most commonly used tools for determining intoxicated driving is the field sobriety test.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, field sobriety tests have been standardized to help officers accurately determine if a driver has been drinking. Exactly how accurate are these tests, however? Is it possible for a sober person to be accused of a crime?

The makeup of a field sobriety test

Because field sobriety tests rely on the interpretation of a police officer instead of chemical results, human error may add to the test's unreliability, according to ABC Action News. Field sobriety tests usually consist of the three following elements:

• Walk-and-turn - During this test, the driver will walk in a straight line, then turn around and walk back.

• One-leg stand - The driver will be asked to stand on one leg while counting out loud for 30 seconds.

• Horizontal gaze nystagmus - This test measures the involuntary jerking of the driver's eyes, which tend to be more pronounced after drinking alcohol.

Studies have shown that these tests may not be very reliable. According to NBC 29 News, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test was shown to be accurate 77 percent of the time. The walk-and-turn was accurate 68 percent of the time, and the one-leg stand was only 65 percent accurate.

Physical conditions and other factors contributing to a false arrest

How, then, might someone who is sober be accused of driving while intoxicated after a field sobriety test? A false positive may occur if the driver exhibited signs or behavior that caused a police officer to think that he or she had been drinking. For example, someone with a speech impediment might be mistaken for having a drunken slur. A person with inner ear problems or difficulty walking could perform poorly on the balancing portions of the test. A driver with red or puffy eyes due to fatigue could be mistaken as intoxicated.

To test how easy - or difficult - it might be to pass a field sobriety test while sober, three volunteers at a shopping center agreed to take the test. Despite not having had anything to drink, all three of them said the test was difficult, and might be even more challenging during a traffic stop if they were nervous or intimidated. Two of the volunteers had problems balancing, and the third person had trouble understanding directions.

After an arrest, an experienced North Carolina DUI defense attorney may be invaluable in answering your questions and advising you on your rights. If you are facing charges of driving while intoxicated, it may help to get in touch with an attorney as soon as possible.