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How field sobriety tests factor into drunk driving charges

On Behalf of | Mar 18, 2021 | Drunk Driving

If a police officer suspects a driver has been drinking, he or she has several options for determining whether that individual is intoxicated. One of the more commonly known methods is the Breathalyzer test, which measures a person’s blood alcohol content. However, many Maryland officers also use field sobriety tests when deciding whether to make a drunk driving arrest.

What is a field sobriety test?

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration endorses what is known as the Standardized Field Sobriety Test. This test consists of three different challenges that are intended to measure different indicators of intoxication. The three challenges are the:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus
  • Walk-and-turn
  • One-leg stand

Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of the eyes that naturally occurs when someone gazes to the side. When someone is intoxicated, that jerking is exaggerated. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is supposed to help detect any exaggerated jerking.

Officers use the walk-and-turn test to observe a driver’s ability to focus undivided attention on a task as well as his or her physical balance. This test involves walking a straight line, turning on one foot and then returning. The one-leg stand also measures balance, and it involves standing on one foot while counting to 30. Any hopping, swaying or using one’s arms to balance could indicate impairment.

Field sobriety tests are often used to justify drunk driving arrests. However, it is very possible for police officers to misinterpret how well a driver performed. Challenging the results of a field sobriety test can be a smart strategy for Maryland defendants who are interested in minimizing the potential consequences of their charges.