DUI Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests, or
FSTs as they are called by law enforcement officers in Nevada, may include any of a dozen or more excercises. The more commonly encountered are: finger-to-nose, walk-and-turn, one-leg-stand, horizontal gaze nystagmus (following an object like a pen or finger from side-to-side with your eyes), the Rhomberg test (also called
modified position of attention), fingers-to-thumb, reciting the alphabet, and hand pat. Contrary to popular belief, you are not required to take these tests; you may refuse to take them with no legal consequences, provided you are over the age of 21.
Studies funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have shown that only three of the field tests one-leg-stand, nystagmus and walk-and-turn are effective in detecting a drunk driver; other FSTs are simply unreliable. Police agencies across the country have been adopting a NHTSA-recommended
standardized battery of three FSTs. Officers in Clark County, Nevada, however, have largely been reluctant to accept the standardized FSTs and most continue to use whatever tests they prefer.
How accurate are field sobriety tests used by Las Vegas and Nevada law enforcement officers in DUI investigations? In 1991, Dr. Spurgeon Cole of Clemson University conducted a study on their accuracy. His staff videotaped 21 individuals performing six common field sobriety tests, then showed the tapes to 14 police officers and asked them to decide whether the suspects had
had too much to drink to drive. What the officers did not know was that the blood-alcohol levels of each of the 21 subjects was .00 percent: none of the subjects had consumed any alcohol at all. The results: 46% of the time the officers gave their opinion that the subject was too inebriated to drive. In other words, the tests were roughly as effective as flipping a coin. Cole & Nowaczyk,
Field Sobriety Tests: Are They Designed for Failure?, 79 Perceptual and Motor Skills 99 (1994).