What are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests? (Part 1)

You may have watched the videos on YouTube, you may have heard about it from your friends, and some of you have been exposed to them personally; but, if you ever become the target of a DUI investigation, you will likely be exposed to what are called Standardized Field Sobriety Evaluations.  In this bog, we look at what these evaluations are.


The short story is: field sobriety evaluations were developed over a number of years and have been employed as tools utilized by law enforcement officers to determine if an individual is safe to operate a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol or drugs.  As lay people, we have seen the finger to nose evaluation, seen people recite the alphabet, watched people walk a line, and seen subjects stand on one leg.  There are many types of evaluations used by law enforcement in the normal discharge of their duties; however, there are only three evaluations that have been standardized by the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and verified to be accurate and effective when utilized properly.  Those three evaluations are:


  1. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Evaluation
  2. The Walk and Turn Evaluation
  3. The One Leg Stand Evaluation


Other evaluations are taught in Standardized Field Sobriety Courses; however, the above three are the only ones that have verifiable data suggesting their accuracy.  Their name tells you everything you need to know about them.  They are Standardized, meaning that they must be administrated in the exact same way every single time.  They are performed in the FIELD, meaning that elements regarding the environment may change which can have an impact on the evaluations and should be taken into consideration when formulating an opinion.  They aid and assist an officer in determining the SOBRIETY level of a subject.  Finally, they are EVALUATIONS, not tests; meaning they are not pass or fail, they are simply graded on a scale.  Obviously, depending on where you fall on that scale, an officer may use that information to opine that you are under the influence to the extent you are less safe to drive.


Each evaluation has its own separate components, distinct characteristics, as well as positive and negative aspects that lends to its effectiveness.  Officers are taught these evaluations over a period of four days, eight hours a day, for a total of 24 hours of training.  There is a classroom component and live participant component.  Both must be passed to receive a certification.


In the next five blogs, I will cover the following topics:


  1. The HGN Evaluation: How it works and how it doesn’t
  2. The Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand Evaluations: How they work and how they don’t
  3. Non-Standardized evaluations used by Standard Officers.
  4. If I am stopped and investigated for DUI, should I submit to Field Sobriety Evaluations?


If you have been stopped for DUI and submitted to any of the above evaluations, contact an attorney that has a practice focused on DUI Detection and Enforcement.  An office like ours can conduct a comprehensive review of your case to determine where mistakes were made.


(770) 945-2320

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Carter Pilgrim
Attorneys at Law

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