Everyday, average citizens all across the beautiful Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, are arrested and charged with DUI. One of the most important pieces of evidence collected by the police and used by the prosecution in these cases are the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). Any conscientious defense lawyer, who specializes in DUI cases, recognizes the importance of these tests and the bearing they have on the outcome of the case. Unfortunately, these tests and the way the police administer them, have many flaws which bring into question the validity of the tests themselves and the results they produce. This is the question we would like to address in this post, do the roadside DUI tests actually measure impaired driving?
Do the Roadside DUI Tests Actually Measure Impaired Driving?
After over eight years, 2,000 DUI cases, and after hosting and instructing at numerous seminars that certified lawyers in SFSTs, I can say that, at best, the SFSTs are a screening tool, and a faulty one at that. The reasons why the roadside DUI tests are faulty are because they are very frequently administered incorrectly and they are based on very broad assumptions.
Improper Administration of the Roadside DUI Tests
The reason why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standardized the field sobriety tests in the first place was to make sure the police were using tests that were scientifically backed. This only holds true if the police exactly follow the prescribed procedure. In fact, NHTSA has mentioned very clearly in all of the police training manuals (in all caps) that:
IT IS NECESSARY TO EMPHASIZE THIS VALIDATION APPLIES ONLY WHEN;
-THE TESTS ARE ADMINISTERED IN THE PRESCRIBED, STANDARDIZED MANNER.
-THE STANDARDIZATION CLUES ARE USED TO ASSESS THE SUSPECT’S PERFORMANCE
-THE STANDARDIZATION CRITERIA ARE EMPLOYED TO INTERPRET THAT PERFORMANCE.
IF ANY ONE OF THE STANDARDIZED FIELD SOBRIETY TEST ELEMENTS IS CHANGED, THE VALIDITY IS COMPROMISED.” R2/00 VII-3; R1/02 VIII-19; R9/04 VIII-19; R2/06 VIII-19
So what is the reality on the ground? Lance Platt, a renowned expert and SFST instructor conducted a study on how police officers were administering these tests with citizens accused of drunk driving. He reviewed thousands of actual videos of police officers testing accused drivers and concluded that 97% of the time, the police officer incorrectly administered at least one of the three tests. This often times can result in false positives.
Even if the DUI tests were administered correctly, they are built on faulty assumptions.
The basic premise of these tests is that if there is no alcohol in the drivers system, they will be coordinated enough to pass these test. This assumption is faulty because there are many things that can cause a person to become uncoordinated such as:
- fear of the police
- confusion due to unfamiliar circumstances
- prescription medication
and then there are some of us who are downright clumsy. Then throw in the fact that you are ask to preform tasks that you never do in your routine life like walk heel to toe in a perfectly straight line and you can start to see why a person who is perfectly sober can fail these tests. I have witnessed this many, many times in my career.
In summary, the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are complex and need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. If you our someone you know has been accused of DUI in PA then contact a DUI attorney who is highly trained in complex DUI issues.