Are Field Sobriety Tests in KS & MO Really Accurate?

Posted by Matt McLane | Feb 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

Officers in both Kansas and Missouri tend to rely on three main field sobriety tests in order to help evaluate a driver's level of impairment. If you are stopped by law enforcement in either state, you will likely be asked to perform one or more of the following:

  1. One-Leg Stand;
  2. Walk and Turn; or
  3. HGN (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus).

One reason for the popularity of these three methods over other types is the fact that these are the only tests that have been certified and standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is supposed to mean that there are strict guidelines in place for officers when they administer any of these three methods.

A problem arises when you look a little closer at the inaccuracies and inconsistencies related to these methods. Let's look at each test separately.

(1) One-Leg Stand: While performing this test, the officer should be looking for a variety of clues related to impairment. These include: swaying; using arms for balance; hopping; and putting the raised foot down. Typically, the officer need only note two of the above clues before arresting the driver for DUI/DWI.

Problems: Variables such as inadequate lighting, bad weather, lack of space, and problematic footwear may cause a driver to perform badly on this test. The evaluation should be given on a surface that is clean, flat and dry. In addition, if the driver is over the age of 65, is more than 50 pounds overweight, or has a physical impairment, the officer should avoid this test. Unfortunately, officers do not always follow those policies.

(2) Walk and Turn: During this test, the officer will instruct the driver to walk in a straight line, turn and walk back. In general, the officer is looking to see whether you can maintain your balance, count properly, and make the appropriate type of turn. If the officer determines that the driver made too many mistakes, the driver will most likely be arrested for DUI/DWI.

Problems: There are a variety of circumstances that may affect the driver's ability to perform this test up to the standard that is required by the officer. Simple things like bad weather or the fact that the driver may suffer from a medical condition will lead to a false result. An example is if the driver is suffering from an inner ear infection. This small infection will likely cause the individual to have poor balance and thus fail the exam.

Another classic case is when the driver is wearing high heel shoes. Although officers should allow the driver to remove the shoes before beginning the test, this is not always reality and this unfortunate choice in footwear could lead the individual to lose her balance, fail, and be charged with DUI/DWI.

(3) HGN: During this test, the officer will be looking at how your eyes move back and forth, side-to-side. Here, issues such as weather, medical and biological conditions, and the environment of the testing location can all lead to the driver performing poorly on the exam.

For instance, say the officer has started to administer the test and while your eyes are following his pen, a car drives by and flashes its brights at you. This causes your eyes to be diverted and you fail the test. Of course, the officer should take this into account and allow you to start again, but that is not always what happens.

When you consider all of these potential issues, it's no wonder why so many people fail these tests. If you were arrested after “failing” one of these tests, contact my office. I have helped clients in both Kansas and Missouri and I can help you, too!

About the Author

Matt McLane

Matt McLane was born in Topeka, Kansas, and moved to Pittsburg, Kansas in 1980 where he attended middle school, high school and college. Upon graduation from PSU in 1992, Matt moved back to Topeka where he attended Washburn University law school. Upon graduation, he moved to Overland Park and worked in a small firm handling DUI and traffic cases. He opened the McLane Law Firm in April 2011 and has built his firm on a strong referral base and solid reputation.


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McLane Law Firm

Matt McLane has been defending individuals charged with DUI, traffic and criminal offenses since his graduation from Washburn University Law School in 1996. Licensed in the states of Kansas and Missouri. Mr. McLane specializes in DUI and criminal defense throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area.

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