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Are field sobriety tests perfect at assessing intoxication?

New Hampshire drivers should be well aware that they should not drive if they are intoxicated. Not only is it dangerous, it is also against the law. However, no one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes. Further, the line between being sober and legally intoxicated isn't necessarily as clear as many think it is.

If you have had a couple drinks and feel okay to drive, you may not hesitate to get behind the wheel. However, if a police officer pulls you over, he or she make suspect you are intoxicated and request that you take some tests to assess your sobriety. Three of these tests are collectively referred to as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.

These three tests are administered in an effort to examine different functions that may or may not lead to suspicion of intoxication. 

  1. Horizontal gaze nystagmus tests are given to observe eye movement. Jerking of the eye or the inability to smoothly follow a moving object may suggest impairment by alcohol.
  2. The one-leg stand test allows officers to observe a person's ability to balance, which can be exceedingly difficult for someone who is drunk.
  3. The walk-and-turn test is administered to assess a few different functions: the ability to divide attention, follow instructions and walk in a straight line.

While these tests can give police officers the information they need to confirm suspicions of drunk driving, the fact is that they are not perfect.

People can fail these tests if they are sober or under the legal limit of 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration for a number of reasons. Everything from road conditions and footwear to medical conditions and improper instructions by a police officer can make it difficult to complete these tests successfully, regardless of intoxication.

Further, it should be noted that these tests are subjective. They depend on individual officers to administer them properly and assess performance. 

While reports indicate that these tests accurately indicate intoxication more than 90 percent of the time, there is room for error. This is why it can be crucial that you scrutinize the details of your traffic stop, the administering of these tests and a resulting arrest with your attorney. In cases where your rights were violated or certain procedures were not followed, you may be able to seek a reduction or dismissal of drunk driving charges.

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