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Field sobriety tests and medical conditions: A legitimacy problem

You were driving home when you began to feel unwell. You lost focus for a few moments and swerved in and out of your lane. You consumed zero alcoholic beverages that evening.

An officer watching nearby noticed your vehicle's erratic movement and started following you. Moments later, he turned on his lights and pulled you over. He wanted you to complete a field sobriety test to show you're not intoxicated.

Medical conditions can play a role in failure

It's not always fair to assume that someone who failed the three field sobriety tests isn't sober. In truth, there are many reasons why a person could fail these tests despite not having had anything to drink. Injuries and illnesses both potentially play a role in the failure of field-sobriety tests.

Injuries that could cause field sobriety test failure include:

  • Joint problems
  • Arthritis
  • Foot or ankle injuries
  • Spinal injuries

Illnesses with symptoms that could lead to field sobriety test failure include:

  • Diabetes
  • Vertigo
  • Seizures
  • Migraines

Field sobriety tests look at people's eyes and ability to focus, make them walk and make them balance. Individuals struggling with physical injuries or conditions may not be able to balance well or could find it difficult to complete the tests due to pain or problems with their joints.

Drivers with illnesses may appear confused or disoriented, unable to complete the tests, but they could actually have a low blood sugar level, be recovering from seizure activity or have a problem with their inner ears.

Jumping to conclusions

It's important for law enforcement officers not to jump to conclusions when someone can't successfully perform a field sobriety test. If you have one of the above conditions, you can explain that to the officer.

Your condition may make it hard to complete the tests, but that doesn't mean you should be unfairly labeled as intoxicated. A second test, like a breathalyzer test, can confirm if alcohol is actually the reason behind a person's behaviors.

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