Field Sobriety Tests
When you are being investigated for drunk driving in North Carolina, the officer who stopped you may ask you to participate in a battery of field sobriety tests, or FSTs. These tests are intended to test your physical and mental state to determine if you are intoxicated.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sanctioned the use of three field sobriety tests to determine if a driver is impaired:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: Used to test the involuntary jerking of the eye, also known as nystagmus. The officer will hold a pen or his finger in front of your face and move it to the left and right, asking you to follow it with only your eyes. The theory is that the presence of nystagmus is indicative of intoxication.
- Walk-and-Turn: This is a divided attention test in which the officer will tell you to take a certain number of steps heel-to-toe along a real or imagined line, pivot on your heel and come back toward him or her. The officer is looking for swaying, inability to stay on the line and if you have trouble following direction.
- One-Leg Stand: Another divided attention test, the one-leg stand test measures your concentration, balance and ability to follow direction. The officer will ask you to stand with your hands at your side and to lift one of your feet six inches or so off of the ground. Any sign of swaying could be cited as evidence that you are intoxicated.
Are These Tests Accurate?
Although the NHTSA has sanctioned the three FSTs listed above, the truth is that there are many, many reasons a person may not perform well on one or all of them that have nothing to do with drinking. What’s more, your performance is graded subjectively by an arresting officer who already assumes that you were intoxicated before he or she administered the tests.