What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

If you have ever been suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) in Utah, then you have probably had to perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). If not, then it is likely that you have seen others performing FSTs on the side of the road. Remember, if you are facing charges for DUI in Utah it is important that you get an effective and affordable DUI lawyer to represent you and protect your rights.

What are FSTs? A typical DUI investigation in Utah involves FSTs and a chemical test. In an earlier blog I talked about Implied Consent and chemical tests (blood, breath, urine and saliva samples). According to the Utah Prosecution Council’s Driving Under the Influence Prosecution Manual, FSTs “are the tools to aid officers in determining whether a person is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or drugs.” (§ 8.1)

What do FSTs test? FSTs are used to test the divided attention of the person being evaluated for DUI. Divided attention is the capacity of an individual to perform more than one task at a time. When a driver is impaired his capacity to divide his attention is reduced. Driving is all about multi-tasking. In addition to operating the vehicle (gas, break, turn signals, etc.) a driver has to be able to read traffic signs and be aware of other vehicles. “Field sobriety tests assess divided attention by requiring the person to complete both physical and mental tasks simultaneously, thereby testing a person’s ability to divide attention between two or more tasks.” Utah Prosecution Council, Driving Under the Influence Prosecution Manual, § 8.1.

How accurate are FSTs? Field Sobriety Tests were standardized and have been regularly used since 1977. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Southern California Research Institute (SCRI) tested the effectiveness of FSTs in detecting impaired driving. Officers look for errors or cues while a DUI suspect performs the tests. The more errors or cues in a test, the more accurately an officer can assess the impairment of a driver. Studies have shown that a certain combination of errors and cues during FSTs will accurately predict when a person has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. Utah Prosecution Council, Driving Under the Influence Prosecution Manual, § 8.2.

What types of FSTs are there? Law enforcement officers in Utah use a variety of field sobriety tests when investigating DUI. A person suspected of DUI in Utah may be asked to perform the one-leg stand test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the walk-and-turn test, the finger-to-nose test, the finger count test, and the Rhomberg modified test.

I will explain each one of these field sobriety tests in detail in future blog posts. For now, drive safely and remember to call Greg Smith and Associates when you need a quality Utah DUI attorney.

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