Can Sober Drivers Fail Field Sobriety Tests?

Can Sober Drivers Fail Field Sobriety Tests?

Can Sober Drivers Fail Field Sobriety Tests?

There’s nothing more frustrating than being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit—especially when it’s something as serious as a DUI. Unfortunately, innocent people are arrested all the time after failing field sobriety tests. The reality is that these tests are easy to fail, regardless of whether you’re sober or inebriated. Due to the potential inaccuracies of field sobriety tests, submitting to one might cost you later down the road.

Although officers make it seem like you must comply with all their orders, you have rights as a Florida resident. One of those rights is refusing to submit to a field sobriety test. The following information will highlight the purpose of field sobriety tests, the types of tests to assess drunk driving, and why these tests are questionable.

What’s the Purpose of Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests are composed of three different assessments to determine whether a driver is impaired at the time of a traffic stop. The goal of each test is to analyze the suspect’s balance, coordination, and attention. The police officer uses his discretion to decide if you did not pass the tests with reasonable success.

When trained and qualified police officers properly administer these tests, they are often useful for identifying those who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, these are subjective testing methods that are not always performed up to standard.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

During a traffic stop, the three tests performed are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand test. These tests are designed to be performed in a sequence. Allegedly failing any one of these tests may result in arrest, and the officer may request a breathalyzer or chemical test to identify your blood alcohol concentration

(BAC). Here’s a short rundown of these field sobriety tests.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The first test administered during a DUI traffic stop is the HGN test. This test aims to establish a connection between alcohol consumption and the presence of nystagmus in the subject’s eye. Nystagmus is a condition where the eyes involuntarily jerk and uncontrollably race. While alcohol does not directly cause nystagmus, it may trigger or amplify it. Adequately trained police officers are taught to assess the following factors:

  • The lack of a smooth pursuit
  • Distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation
  • The onset of nystagmus is before a 45-degree angle

According to NHTSA, displaying four or more clues in each eye is considered a failure of the test.


The next test is the walk-and-turn, where the suspect is asked to complete nine heel-to-toe steps on a straight line. Upon completion of the first nine steps, the suspect is then asked to turn on one foot and proceed back to the starting point. The police officer will observe closely for the following indications of impairment:

  • Swaying while stepping
  • Using arms for balance
  • Failing to touch heel-to-toe
  • Walking before instructions were completed
  • Taking too many steps
  • Turning the wrong way
  • Stopping

One-Leg Stand Test

The last test is the one-leg stand, where the suspect is asked to stand with one foot extended in front of their body and six inches above the ground. The test requires the suspect to hold count for thirty seconds. During the count, the police officer will carefully examine the following signs of impairment:

  • Swaying
  • Hopping
  • Using arms for balance
  • Putting foot down frequently

Why Do Sober Drivers Fail Field Sobriety Tests?

Complications can arise that might make it difficult for a driver to pass one or more of these field

sobriety tests. Of course, one of the problems is if a driver is indeed intoxicated. However, there are several reasons why sober drivers may fail these tests, including:

  • Underlying medical condition
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Injury
  • Fatigue
  • Failing to understand officer directions
  • Using prescription medication
  • Wearing contact lenses

Additionally, a DUI traffic stop may be a stressful and traumatic event. Feelings of intense anxiety, nervousness, and concern may cause you to feel uneasy and affect how you perform specific portions of the assessment. Officers are required to approach the situation by asking if there is any reason other than intoxication that might result in your inability to perform the test successfully and document these elements in their report.

Local Orlando DUI Attorneys Defending Your Future

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Florida and need legal assistance, the highly qualified legal team at The Umansky Law Firm is the place to call. With an incredible understanding of the intricacies of DUI cases, our Orlando DUI attorneys can prove to be an invaluable asset in protecting your rights and future.

In addition to our firm’s significant achievements and over 100 years of combined experience, each team member is acknowledged for their personal efforts and accomplishments. Having served as former prosecutors and public defenders, our attorneys are prepared to handle your DUI case and operate in a productive environment consistent with our overriding principles of excellence, transparency, and respect.

Reach out to an experienced DUI lawyer by calling our office or filling out a contact form for a free case evaluation today.

Can Sober Drivers Fail Field Sobriety Tests?