Taking any sobriety test is usually a no-win proposition, but non-standardized field sobriety tests are even less reliable than the already poor standardized tests — so why are they still in use? Lack of resources, training, and old-school officers doing things the way that they are used to, that’s why. The police have guidelines, but ultimately they typically like to do whatever they want. 

So, what can you do about it? You can arm yourself with knowledge. Know how the tests are administered so that you aren’t taken by surprise. If you fail the test, you can always call a lawyer to dispute the results. We recommend a lawyer who knows the science behind intoxication as well as the complex set of laws governing Texas DWI. 

That lawyer is Mark Thiessen. Mark is the only lawyer in America who is quadruple Board Certified* in DWI, and an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist to boot. Call Thiessen Law Firm at (713) 864-9000 for expert defense today. 

*Mark Thiessen’s board certifications include:

  1. Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
  2. DUI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense as approved through the American Bar Association
  3. DUI Law by the DUI Defense Lawyers Association
  4. Board Certified Advocate Criminal Trial Law by the NBTA Foundation

What are the three standardized field sobriety tests?

The best way to remember which tests are non-standard is to remember that only three field sobriety tests are standardized:

  1. Horizontal gaze nystagmus: The horizontal gaze nystagmus involves a police officer shining a light in your eyes and moving an object side to side. You follow the object while the officer records whether your eye follows it smoothly or in jerking motions called nystagmus. This test boasts the highest accuracy of the three at a mere 77%. 
  2. Walk and turn test: The walk and turn test involves walking heel-to-toe in a straight line with your hands at your sides, turning around, and doing it again. This test has a supposed 66% accuracy, and that’s in ideal conditions. 
  3. One-leg stand test: The one-leg stand test involves standing on one leg for 30 seconds without swaying or resting. This test has only a 65% accuracy rate for determining intoxication, according to the people that developed it. 

Any field sobriety tests other than these three are considered non-standard. Although even these standardized sobriety tests aren’t all that reliable and should not be the reason that anyone is convicted for DWI.

The standardized sobriety tests don’t have convincing success rates even when performed perfectly by a well-trained officer in a variable-less environment. You can only imagine how unreliable non-standardized field sobriety tests are when performed by untrained officers on the side of a busy street. Hence why any arrests made on account of these tests are unreasonable and should be fought with the help of a good lawyer.

Continue reading: Can you refuse a sobriety test?

Non-standardized, alternative field sobriety tests

There are many different types of field sobriety tests that have fallen into disuse, here are just some of the popular ones. 

Romberg Test

The Romberg test involves tilting your head back, closing your eyes, and counting to 30. When you believe that 30 seconds has elapsed, you lift your head and say stop. This test is not interested in how correct your estimation of 30 seconds is, but rather in seeing how severely you sway once your head is tilted back and you are distracted. 

Although this test has never been validated and has been widely discredited, many police officers will still use it. This test is utterly bogus. In fact, it was developed early in the 20th century as a way to determine if a patient was suffering from syphilis. 

Finger-to-nose test

The finger-to-nose test involves tilting your head back, closing your eyes, and touching your nose with your index finger. The officer will instruct you to touch your nose with your left and right index finger in a random order. Much like the Romberg test, this test is just as much about how much your body sways when you are distracted, your head is tilted back, and your eyes are closed. 

Hand pat test

The hand pat test is ridiculous and confusing. You are instructed to hold a hand out with your palm facing up and place your other hand on top with your palm facing down. You then use the hand on top to pat the hand on the bottom, alternating the top hand’s palm position from facing up to facing down, and counting each pat out loud while you do so.

Go ahead and try it. The instructions are unclear and they don’t wait for clarification. They don’t even have a way of scoring this test to determine pass or fail. It is instead just used to fluster drivers who they believe to be intoxicated. 

ABC test and the backwards number test

This test involves counting a set of numbers provided by the officer backwards, or reciting a specific section of the alphabet without singing. Like the previous three tests, this has never been validated as having any relationship with intoxication.

What does standardization mean?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has essentially accredited the three standardized tests, but on what evidence is this accreditation based? Are field sobriety tests scientifically validated? Not really. Okay, then what is the purpose of standardized field sobriety tests? To make it easier to put you in jail.

The NHTSA (an organization without any scientific authority) researched and developed the three standardized sobriety tests (along with some of the alternative field sobriety tests) in the 1970s. Although these tests are in fact capable of detecting intoxication, they are not capable of doing so with any accuracy. 

Firstly, there isn’t much evidence that suggests that a sober person has an advantage in completing these tests over an intoxicated person. This is how they are designed, to make sure that everyone fails. The tests are not designed to measure intoxication, but to make highways “safer” by allowing the police to arrest whomever they want with impunity. 

So, are field sobriety tests accurate? We think we can safely say they absolutely are not. 

With the right DWI attorney, non-standardized field sobriety tests should not hold up in court

Failing a non-standardized field sobriety test should have no impact at all on your case. These tests have never been validated, measured, or even approved for use. In order to make sure that organizational incompetence doesn’t land you with a conviction for DWI, you need an aggressive and experienced DWI lawyer. 

Mark Thiessen is an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist and a quadruple Board Certified DWI attorney. If anyone understands the intersection of science and the law, it’s him. For expert defense call Thiessen Law Firm today at (713) 864-9000 or contact us online for a free case evaluation. 

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Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.