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What three tests are commonly used for field sobriety tests?

Some readers from New Jersey may be interested in learning more about the Standardized Field Sobriety Test. The SFST is actually a compilation of three separate tests created by the Southern California Research Institute and sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The compilation includes the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg-stand test. All three are intended to aid police officers in detecting someone who has been driving while intoxicated.

Someone who is under the influence of alcohol may be unable to visually track a moving object in some circumstances. The HGN test scrutinizes whether or not the eye jerks and if the jerking occurs at a predetermined angle. If these symptoms are present in sufficient quantity in one or both eyes, it is considered likely that the subject's blood alcohol content will be above the legal limit.

In addition to the HGN test, officers may also use divided attention testing to aid them in DWI investigations. The walk-and-turn test requires the subject to walk along a straight line, turn on one foot and walk back to the original point. The one-leg-stand test requires the subject to stand on one foot while counting out loud for approximately 30 seconds. In both cases, inability to satisfactorily complete the tests may be viewed as indications of DWI.

Given some of the relatively complex physical tasks involved in these testing methods, it may be possible for someone to fail an SFST and be inadvertently charged with DWI as a consequence. While every situation is inevitably unique and these statements should not necessarily be construed as legal advice, someone who has been charged with DWI may benefit from having an attorney prepare their defense and advocate before the prosecution on their behalf.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "The Highway Safety Desk Book", November 22, 2014

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