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Are Field Sobriety Tests Reliable?

Are Field Sobriety Tests Reliable?

Why to NEVER Take a Field Sobriety Test – Debunking an Avalanche of Misinformation and Deception about Field Sobriety Tests

By: William C. Head – DUI Attorney
© 2016 – All rights reserved

Are the Field Tests SCIENTIFIC? – Does “Standardized” Mean That Sobriety Tests Are Reliable?

No Field Sobriety Test in Use Today by Police Is Correlated to Driving Impairment – PERIOD.

The standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) being pushed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, are not reliable DUI tests, nor do they have any proven correlation to driving impairment. This is a well-orchestrated, deceptive propaganda campaign launched by a federally-funded psychologist who obtained dozens of federal contracts to FIND some kind of quick roadside DUI tests, that officers could use to make better decisions on which drinking drivers they should arrest.

Once the Government printed up training materials, with no peer review of the conclusions of the paid researcher, the propaganda started. Since then, for over three decades, the United States government and all state governments in the United States have supported, funded, trained and permitted police officers to arrest suspected drunk drivers using these faulty field sobriety test “evaluations.” The propaganda has been so pervasive that the average citizen in America mistakenly THINKS that these DUI test procedures used by police officers at the roadside are REQUIRED, when they are not!

Even more tragically, most trial courts in America allow the same unreliable “junk science” of these bogus, pre-arrest DUI test evaluations to be used to obtain convictions at jury trials and at non-jury trials (judge only bench trial) in both felony DUI cases and in misdemeanor drunk driving cases in state and federal courts all over America.

This important article about the no-longer-standardized field sobriety test battery (HGN – horizontal gaze nystagmus, WAT – walk and turn, and OLS – one leg stand DUI tests) addresses how the government’s deception and fraud have been perpetrated, in a misguided and frenzied effort to stop drunken driving by enabling law enforcement officers across America to arrest ANY person who has the smell of alcohol on his or her breath, whenever the officer’s subjective, roadside DUI “sobriety tests” point to a person who is possibly over the legal limit.

As a result, millions of unimpaired drivers have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol in the last 30+ years, by virtue of this corrupt use of unreliable field testing.

Like all propaganda, the longer that DUI test misinformation is repeated and restated, the more that the general public begins to believe it. This same principle of repetition is why Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo, who refuted conventional knowledge and publicly insisted that the Earth was round and not flat, was arrested in 1615. He was tried for “heresy” by the Roman Catholic Church during The Inquisition, and was forced to publicly recant his scientific views about astronomy – or be put to death. He recanted, and thereby saved his life.

Galileo was then imprisoned by house arrest for the remainder of his life – another 27 years. During that time on house arrest, he wrote down all the details of his scientific observations and conclusions, so that after his death the science was preserved.

The emergence of televised reality programs showing police having suspected impaired drivers attempt to perform voluntary DUI tests, and the subsequent growth of the Internet with all forms of media presentation of similar performances, has led to widespread regurgitation of false and misleading information about the three “field sobriety test” exercises. Almost all of the SFST misinformation is derived from law enforcement agencies connected to the federal government, state governments, or some sycophantic “research” project funded — directly or indirectly — by our federal tax dollars.

Apparently trusting that the Government would NEVER deceive its citizens, many well-meaning private and non-profit companies have inadvertently posted on their websites incorrect, unproven claims about the accuracy and reliability of field sobriety tests.

How Websites Perpetuate and Expand the Fraud of Police DUI Tests

When I searched Google for high-ranking websites, I saw the “AAA DUI Justice Link” ranking near the top of Google rankings. Under the guise of increasing traffic safety, this fawning driving safety organization spits out incorrect information about the accuracy of field sobriety tests, and posts hand-fed dribble from NHTSA and MADD statistics.

These numbers about the reliability of field sobriety tests are inaccurate and clearly biased beyond doubt. The Government has altered field sobriety test guidelines and modified important field sobriety test procedures so often that 95% of all DUI arrests are made by police officers with outdated training.

I did find a disclaimer at the very bottom of the field sobriety test page published by AAA, where they predictably misnamed these evaluations as “Standard Field Sobriety Tests.” That disclaimer reads as follows:

The information and content provided on this site has been collected from various third party sources, and does not necessarily represent the opinions or judgments of AAA. AAA is not responsible for, and makes no warranties or representations as to the accuracy of the information, which is provided “as is.”

Unfortunately, this important disclaimer is buried in the fine print (it was actually posted in a 7.5 font size, but I have enlarged it here), and the 40+ errors in the tripe published by AAA in citing proven government lies and deceptions about the claimed reliability of the 3 optional field sobriety test exercises is simply inexcusable. Below, I will clarify and dispel many of these errors about NHTSA’s field sobriety tests.

Just like the other bloated driving safety website that has been highlighted in this article, FINDLAW has posted totally INCORRECT information about the reliability of the so-called “field sobriety tests.” When we were children, we would chant, “LIAR, LIAR pants on FIRE!”

I now denounce FINDLAW for being so quick to assume that a government agency is telling the truth about police sobriety tests that they authorized, paid for, and put in print, at TAXPAYER COST, that cannot be scientifically proven to be true.
At this link:
[hyperlink intentionally removed in order to not perpetuate the misinformation], the world’s largest legal website (their claim, not mine) spits out false information about roadside sobriety tests. Not a single peer-reviewed study or article has ever verified the unscientific “validation studies done in the mid-1990s.”

FINDLAW has done a great disservice by using their monolithic size to get to the top of search results for “field sobriety tests,” and posting flawed information that can and will MISLEAD thousands of accused drunk drivers who are seeking scientifically correct internet data about sobriety “tests.”

Looking at their information, the only question I now have, is “who copied from whom,” as I compare their very similar posting to the one displayed at the AAA site I have already identified above as putting out the same drivel.

FINDLAW has had some copywriter summarize and regurgitate propaganda from NHTSA, or some other government misinformation site, talking about the sobriety field tests as being capable of identifying impaired drivers. POPPYCOCK! When your initial study was flawed from the outset, and all other data flows from flawed data, nothing good can be expected. These evaluations should be called “false incrimination tests.”

The Findlaw site summarizes the NHTSA 3-test battery as follows:

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) consists of the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk-and-turn (WAT) and one-leg stand (OLS).

Then, Findlaw goes on to explain the mechanics of each of the three “standardized” police sobriety tests, but not one word is mentioned about the NUMEROUS true research scientists who have taken NHTSA to task over acting as though these roadside exercises are more than “party games” that can lead to false DUI DWI arrests.

Next, Findlaw repeats the long-discredited mid-1990s validation studies that were created by the federal government in an effort to CLAIM (falsely) that somehow, police officers a decade or so after the original standardized manual was published, had suddenly developed “superpowers” and were not able to accurately GUESS which roadside drunk driving subjects were “over the 0.08 limit” (the new standard that was being used in several states at the time, and which is now the standard in every US jurisdiction), versus the far worse statistics recorded for officers who had been unable to even come close to these alleged statistics 15 years earlier.

Plus, the earlier effort to GUESS who was “over the legal limit” was attempted (under controlled conditions). They were tasked with GUESSING which drivers were 0.10 or more. Here is the completely misleading and scientifically-unsupported information, being “sold” by FINDLAW:

Taken as a whole, the three components of the SFST accurately indicate alcohol impairment in 91 percent of all cases and 94 percent of cases if explanations for some of the false positives are accepted, according to a 1998 study cited by the NHTSA.

Plus, the author must point out the pernicious and highly dangerous misconception — believed by almost all Americans — that they MUST attempt to do the optional, voluntary and self-incriminatory field sobriety tests requested by a police officer who is standing at their driver’s window of their vehicle, or they will go to jail. Having asked thousands of prospective jurors about this concept, over 90% of prospective citizens on jury duty BELIEVE they must attempt these bogus tests. This is the biggest lie of all, and officers get special semantics training on how to verbally coax, coerce, trick and berate citizens into engaging in these roadside “party games.”

The attempt to “pass” these evaluations and the roadside recording of whatever is said by the citizen will later be the centerpiece of the criminal prosecution against the unsuspecting, accused intoxicated driver.

The truth is this: A failed field sobriety test usually can be explained by one of these 5 flawed actions or defective field sobriety test procedures:

  1. The officer instructs the sobriety tests incorrectly.
  2. The person asked to perform the field sobriety test is too old or out of shape to EVER “pass” sobriety tests.
  3. The surface conditions, lighting conditions or weather conditions impact the detained person’s ability to execute field sobriety test exercises.
  4. The officer’s scoring method is subjective and hyper-technical so as to assure failure of the sobriety tests.
  5. The inherent flaws in the scoring protocol cause the subject to fail.

Since the inception of SFST “research,” hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been committed to this project, after the first field testing manual was released for distribution to police in 1984. It was called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.” Most of the taxpayer money spent by the federal government since 1975 went to Dr. Burns and her cronies. Ironically, these evaluations are NOT reliable to identify impaired drivers and have never been correlated to prove “driving impairment.” From that starting point, let’s learn more about how this boondoggle has operated to the detriment of millions of innocent drivers on America’s highways over the past 30+ years.

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Further Reading

For more information on field sobriety tests, take a look at one of our articles detailing specific aspects of these DUI tests below: