What are Field Sobriety Tests?

            In virtually every situation where a person has been pulled over for an alleged traffic violation and the officer “detects an odor of alcohol,” the officer will routinely ask the driver to perform Field Sobriety Tests (“FSTs”). These FSTs are used by the officer as tools used to assist them in determining whether probable cause exists to arrest a driver for the offense of DUI.

A Little About the Tests

            After many years of research and in an attempt to standardize Field Sobriety Testing, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) adopted three field sobriety evaluations for use by police officers nationwide: the One Leg Stand, the Walk & Turn, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. NHTSA has issued strict standards by which the evaluations must be administered in order to ensure the tests’ results are consistently reliable and valid. These standards are published in a manual given to every NHTSA trained officer. The manual provides the precise procedures police officers are to use when administering the NHTSA-approved FSTs to DUI suspects.

FSTs to our Advantage

As a result, lawyers are able to question officers about their administration and interpretation of these FSTs under the NHTSA standards. In Georgia, every police officer is required to be trained under the standards provided by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.). As of October 1, 1995, P.O.S.T. adopted the three NHTSA-approved FSTs.

            This FST blog series will explore each of the three NHTSA FSTs in detail. We will discuss the tests themselves, how these tests are administered, how officers score the tests, and common mistakes officers make in giving these tests.  

by Casey Cleaver