Atlanta, GA-Intoxicated driving is still a major issue in the United States, every 53 minutes someone is killed in a drunken driving crash. Thousands of people get behind the wheel when they’ve had too much to drink so law enforcement officers are carefully trained to determine if a driver is intoxicated. Even when a driver is suspected of being intoxicated, officers must conduct field sobriety tests before asking the driver to agree to a breath or blood test.
The first thing that tips off an officer that a driver is possibly intoxicated is their driving. Erratic maneuvers, speeding or disobeying traffic signs and signals are enough probable cause for an officer to pull a person over, but erratic driving alone is not enough to arrest a driver for DUI, they must have proof a driver is drunk .
Once an officer has stopped a driver they will observe the driver’s eyes for redness. Slurred speech and the smell of alcohol will tip off an officer.
If law enforcement suspects a driver is drunk then they will ask that driver to get out of their car and submit to a series of field sobriety tests. Sobriety tests include exercises that test a person’s balance, eye movements and their cognitive skills. The NHTSA provides a brief description of the standardized tests officers use, but how reliable are these tests and can they be challenged by a DUI attorney.
There are three field sobriety tests that are recommended by the NHTSA:
HGN Test- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking motion of the eye as an person looks to the side. This occurs when the eye is rotated at high peripheral angles, but when a driver is intoxicated that jerking movement may be exaggerated or can occur at lesser peripheral angles. Intoxicated drivers also have difficulty in following moving objects with their eyes. An officer will look for three things when conducting this test to determine intoxication; if the suspect cannot follow a moving object, if the jerking is very distinct when the eye is moved at extreme angles; if the jerking is observed when the eyes are moved 45 degrees of the center.
According to the NHTSA, the HGN test is 88 percent accurate and when a driver exhibits four or more of the involuntary eye movements it is possible they are over the .08 legal limit.
Walk and Turn and One Leg Test- Both of these tests are “divided attention” tests which are easy for most sober people to perform.These tests require the driver to listen to and follow instructions along with performing simple physical movements. The point of these tests is to divide the driver’s attention between a mental and physical task.
For the Walk and Turn, the suspect is asked to take nine steps, heel to toe. Once those steps are complete, the suspect is then asked to turn on one foot an repeat the steps. Officers look for eight signs of impairment, such as whether the suspect can maintain their balance, use their arms to balance, can walk a straight line and whether they are able to turn without losing their balance.
The One Leg Test is pretty straightforward, the suspect is asked to stand on one leg and count aloud. Drivers who are intoxicated often find it difficult to maintain their balance and perform a mental task. The NHTSA estimates that the Walk and Turn test has a 79 percent accuracy rate and the One Leg Stand has 83 percent accuracy.
If a driver performs poorly on these tests, they can be asked to submit to a breathalyzer or chemical blood test. The accused refuse to takes these tests, but many states have penalties for refusing to blow. Field sobriety tests and other signs of intoxicates are easily challenged by an accomplished DUI attorney and the offender may be able to avoid a DUI or have their charges reduced.