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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed three field sobriety tests in the 1970s that are used by Texas law enforcement agents today to determine whether a driver suspected of drunk driving has a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit. If a driver fails these tests, he or she may be arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI). The three standardized field sobriety tests are the walk-and-turn test, the one-leg stand test, and horizontal gaze nystagmus.

The Three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The walk-and-turn falls under the category of “divided attention” tests. It is designed to measure both your physical abilities and your ability to follow directions. During the instruction phase, you will be required to stand heel to toe with your arms by your side. During the walking phase, you will take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine steps back while counting your steps aloud. The officer will look for eight clues: problems balancing during the instruction phase, starting too soon, stopping while walking, failing to touch heel to toe, stepping off the line, using arms for balance, losing balance on the turn, and taking an incorrect number of steps. If you exhibit two or more clues, you will fail the walk-and-turn test.

The one-leg stand test is another divided attention test. To perform this test, you must stand on one leg, raise your other foot six inches off the ground, and count “one-one thousand,” “two-one thousand” until asked to stop. The officer will look for four clues: swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping, and putting the foot down. Exhibiting two or more of these clues will lead to a failing score.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus measures your “nystagmus,” or jerking of the eye. If a person is intoxicated, this jerking becomes more pronounced. To administer the test, the officer will ask you to follow a small stimulus with your eyes. As your eyes move side to side, the officer will look for three clues in each eye, for a total of six clues. These include a lack of a smooth pursuit when following the object, distinct jerking when the eye reaches the maximum deviation, and the onset of nystagmus before the eye reaches 45%.

Fight The Results of the FST’s

Please keep in mind that these tests are not scientific, and the scoring is subjective. This means that even if you fail your field sobriety tests, you should still fight your DWI charge. Our lawyers represent clients in Austin and Travis County who have been arrested for drunk driving.

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