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What does field sobriety testing usually involve?

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2023 | DUI |

Sometimes, Kentucky police officers pull people over because they seem like they might be drunk. Officers already know to screen for impairment as they approach the vehicle. Other times, it may be someone’s conduct during a traffic stop that makes an officer question their sobriety. They might slur their speech or even admit to consuming alcohol earlier in the evening.

If police officers believe that someone might be under the influence, they will start gathering evidence to justify arresting them. One of the first steps in that process, other than asking questions, often involves conducting a series of field sobriety tests.

There are three standardized tests drivers may perform

Movies and television shows sometimes take liberties when depicting field sobriety testing. They show something silly or over-the-top to contribute to the overall tone of the movie. During a real-world traffic stop, an officer wants the results of the test to be as definitive as possible. Therefore, they will typically administer the three standardized field sobriety tests recognized in most jurisdictions.

After having the driver exit the vehicle, the officer will conduct three separate tests. There is the walk-and-turn test where a driver needs to walk a specific distance forward along a straight line, turn 180° and walk back to the officer. Someone under the influence will very likely stumble or deviate from the line that they should follow.

The second test is the one-leg-stand test. Officers will instruct someone to stand on one leg, possibly while moving their arms back and forth. The individual may need to perform minor cognitive tests, like performing math calculations or reciting the alphabet, while conducting either of these two tests.

The third test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The officer instructs the driver to follow their finger or flashlight from side to side without moving their head. The officer looks for involuntary muscle twitches that become far more visible when someone is under the influence of alcohol.

These tests can help demonstrate a likelihood of chemical intoxication. Of course, there are a host of scenarios that might trigger false positive results on these tests. Medical issues could be one reasonable explanation for why someone performed poorly on field sobriety tests. As such, understanding the general rules – and limitations – for field sobriety testing may help those responding to pending drunk driving charges in Kentucky.