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Why people with disabilities fail field sobriety tests

On Behalf of | Dec 3, 2023 | Drunk Driving Charges |

The police have several methods of gathering evidence when they suspect a driver is drunk. For example, an open bottle of alcohol could be probable cause for an arrest. A driver may be asked to have their blood alcohol content evaluated by a breath test. Or, a driver may admit to drunk driving after a few well-placed questions by the officer.

The police also commonly ask drivers to perform field sobriety tests. A field sobriety test is a kind of physical examination. There are four kinds of field sobriety tests:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test: The driver is asked to look at a moving object while the police watch for eye flickering, which can indicate inebriation. 
  • Walk-and-turn test: The driver would need to walk on a straight line and return to where they started.
  • One-legged stand test: The police may ask a driver to lift one leg for several seconds.
  • Non-standardized field sobriety tests: The above tests are considered standardized. Any other test is non-standardized, such as walking backward or spelling the alphabet

While these tests can help the police during the investigation process, they may not always be accurate. The police could, for example, believe someone with disabilities is drunk. Here’s how that happens:

A disability can make passing the test impossible

Disabilities can affect people differently, which can make it hard for law enforcement to give a fair judgment during field sobriety tests. Someone with a limp or leg injury, for instance, may not be able to walk in a straight line or lift a leg.  Meanwhile, a visibility issue may make it harder for a driver to focus on a moving object. Even a temporary condition, like an inner ear infection that affects someone’s balance, can cause someone to “fail” these tests. That’s why it’s generally wisest to decline to participate.

If a driver believes they are wrongly accused of drunk driving because a disability made it hard to assess whether they were drunk, the driver may need to learn how to create a legal defense.