Being pulled over by a police officer can be a stressful and frightening experience, especially if you suspect you may be over the legal limit for alcohol consumption. One of the tests that officers may administer is the field sobriety test (FST), which can leave many drivers wondering why passing is so difficult.
Here’s what you should know about field sobriety tests and why FSTs can be challenging to perform.
Elements of the FST
The field sobriety test is a series of physical and mental tasks designed to assess a driver’s level of impairment. These tests typically include the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. While these tests may seem simple in theory, they can be difficult to perform successfully, even for someone who is sober.
One of the reasons that FSTs are so challenging to pass is that they are ultimately a judgment call. There are many factors that officers are looking for, and an officer may interpret something as simple as a balance check as an indication that you were drinking. Also, factors such as your age, weight, physical abilities and nervousness can dramatically impact your performance.
Another reason FSTs can be difficult to pass is that the officer is looking to confirm what they already believe to be true – that the driver is under the influence of alcohol. Officers are trained to look for specific indicators of impairment, such as swaying or losing balance during the walk-and-turn test or being unable to hold a position during the one-leg stand test. If the officer believes the driver is impaired, they may interpret even minor mistakes as confirmation of their suspicions.
It is also important to note that officers may have already witnessed behavior that indicates that the driver has been drinking. This behavior can include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes or the odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath or clothing. In these cases, the officer may already have a preconceived notion of the driver’s level of impairment before even administering the FST.
FSTs can be difficult to pass for a variety of reasons. There are many elements that the officer is looking for, and it is ultimately a judgment call. Remember that the results of the FST are not always a clear-cut determination of impairment and that you have the right to speak with an attorney before making any statements or agreeing to any further testing.