Skip to Content
Free Consultation 201-574-7919

How can people fail a field sobriety test sober?


Field sobriety tests are not always accurate. Drivers may fail the test for a number of reasons despite being sober.

Throughout the holiday season and past the New Year, New Jersey law enforcement will likely be on the lookout for drunk drivers. This is one of the busiest times of the year for drunk driving across the country. Field sobriety tests are one of the methods used by law enforcement to find suspected drunk drivers before they cause an accident. However, a number of factors may make it possible for people to face drunk driving charges even if they hadn't been drinking before a traffic stop.

How can this happen? First, it is necessary to understand the basics behind the average field sobriety test. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this test generally consists of three components. The walk-and-turn requires the driver to walk along a straight line and then turn around and walk back in the same direction. During the one-leg stand, the officer will have the person balance on one foot while counting for a specified period. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test measures the involuntary jerking of a person's eyes, which may be pronounced under the effects of alcohol. Each of these tests relies on a police officer's own interpretation, rather than the results of a chemical blood or breath test. Therefore, field sobriety tests are subject to human error.

Accuracy problems

Some conditions may mimic intoxication, states ABC Action News, and result in a false positive during a field sobriety test. A few examples could include the following:

• Inner ear problems or side effects from a stroke, which may affect balance

• Injuries, medical conditions or illnesses that make it difficult for a driver to walk normally

• Cognitive impairments that result in slurred or halting speech

• Fatigue or other conditions that cause bloodshot or puffy eyes

In an experiment to demonstrate the unreliability of field sobriety tests, three sober volunteers at a shopping center were given a standard field sobriety test, reported NBC 29 News. Each person passed, although they had difficulty doing so. Two had balancing problems and the third had difficulty following directions because she was sleep-deprived. They each agreed that the test would be more difficult to pass in real conditions, when they might be nervous or caught off guard.

Steep penalties

The penalties for a first offense in New Jersey are serious, according to the State of New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. Those with first-time convictions face fines, up to 30 days in jail, the loss of their driver's license and community service. The consequences are worse for subsequent convictions.

It is important to seek the help of DUI defense attorney after failing a field sobriety test.

Share To: