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The Science Behind Field Sobriety Tests

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Field sobriety tests are commonly used by law enforcement agencies across the nation. But who came up with these tests in the first place? And what is the scientific basis behind them?

History of Sobriety Testing

In the late 1970s, the U.S. government wanted to create field sobriety tests that were more effective than the ones being used at the time
. So they asked the Southern California Research Institute to conduct a study.

The institute's first attempt at solving this problem was less than stellar
. Even the researchers admitted that the "new and improved" field sobriety tests were only accurate about half the time. So the government asked the group to try again.

Eventually, the researchers concluded that they had come up with a series of tests with a failure rate of only 9%.
The institute published its final report in 1981, and many of the procedures and policies used by police today are based on that research. But were those results scientifically-based?

History Revisited

In 2005, other researchers obtained the institute's data through the Freedom of Information Act, and examined it more closely. What they discovered was shocking: some of the test subjects had blood alcohol levels which were so much higher than the legal limit that the field sobriety test results were largely irrelevant.

The latest study concluded that while field sobriety tests can spot motorists who are extremely drunk, they are not useful at all in determining the degree to which a person might be intoxicated. Therefore, a police officer may very well arrest someone for driving under the influence if their blood alcohol level is within the range allowed by law - or even if the individual is completely sober.

Browse our library to learn more about field sobriety tests

The penalties for DUI in Virginia are too severe to permit courts to ‘look the other way' when police officers make errors. However, there is one certainty at a DUI trial - the DUI defendant cannot prevail on an issue his lawyer fails to recognize and raise!

If you have been arrested for DUI in Virginia, there is no time to waste! Contact Virginia DUI Lawyer Bob Battle to schedule your legal consultation today - 804-673-5600.

Bob Battle
100% of my practice is devoted to serious traffic defense and criminal litigation in state and federal courts
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