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What can skew a field sobriety test result?

On Behalf of | Jan 16, 2020 | DWI

When they pull you over on suspicion of drunk driving, a police officer will likely ask you to perform a field sobriety test. This type of test allows an officer to assess your level of intoxication from a physical standpoint. If you fail, it usually gives the officer probable cause to arrest you for drunk driving.

However, field sobriety tests are not always reliable. There are several factors that can cause you to fail these roadside tests.


Two out of the three standardized field sobriety tests require a certain amount of dexterity and balance. Often, older people who must take these tests do not perform well due to their age and declining physical health. Other times, loss of hearing might make it challenging for them to discern what an officer wants them to do. Police might all-too-easily mistake this for intoxicated behavior.

Nerves, fear or anxiety

Regardless of your age, getting pulled over can be a nerve-wracking and sometimes even frightening experience. While some people can handle high-stress situations calmly, other people experience physical symptoms in the face of intense pressure. Nervousness can make you trip over your words, shake or cause dizziness. All of these effects and more can have a serious impact on your ability to perform well in any field sobriety test, standardized or not.

Physical or mental disability

As with age, physical disabilities can make it challenging for you to successfully carry out a field sobriety test. Bad knees, back injuries and even certain illnesses can cause you to fail a roadside test. In addition, disorders like autism can affect a driver’s ability to communicate effectively with the officer.

Know your rights

When an officer pulls you over, know that you don’t have to fully submit to their authority. While you should always behave respectfully and politely, you have rights in this situation.

You are under no legal obligation to submit to a field sobriety test. And although a police officer can still use your refusal as a reason to arrest you, it’s often in your best interest not to perform a field sobriety test.

After an arrest, the officer will likely take you in for chemical testing. In this situation, refusing a field sobriety test will generally benefit you more than it will hurt you. If your chemical test comes back below the legal blood alcohol concertation limit, there are no further consequences. If it comes back higher than the limit, an officer cannot use the results of a field sobriety test as evidence against you, and you may be able to fight any DWI charges that come your way.

It can be scary to refuse an officer after getting pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. But even sober drivers are liable to fail a field sobriety test. By refusing, you are protecting your rights looking out for your future.