This article details the history and development of the National Highway and Safety Administration’s Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. They are reviewed in terms of relevant scientific, psychometric, and legal issues. It is concluded that the research that supports their use is limited, important confounding variables have not been thoroughly studied, reliability is mediocre, and that their developers and prosecution-oriented publications have oversold the tests. Further, case law since their development has severed the tests from their validation data, so that they are not admissible on the criterion for which they were validated (blood alcohol concentration), and admissible for a criterion for which they were not (mental, physical, or driving impairment). Directions for further research are presented.
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A confidence interval is set using the SD rather than the average deviation. For a normal distribution, the SD equals 1.25332 times the average deviation (see Senter 1969).
A full explanation of this figure and analysis is available from the author.
(a) Problems with the inner ear labyrinth; (b) irrigating the ears with warm or cold water under peculiar weather conditions; (c) influenza; (d) streptococcus infection; (e) vertigo; (f) measles; (g) syphilis; (h) arteriosclerosis; (i) muscular dystrophy; (j) multiple sclerosis; (k) Korsakoff’s syndrome; (l) brain hemorrhage; (m) epilepsy; (n) hypertension; (o) motion sickness; (p) sunstroke; (q) eyestrain; (r) eye muscle fatigue; (s) glaucoma; (t) changes in atmospheric pressure; (u) consumption of excessive amounts of caffeine; (v) excessive exposure to nicotine; (w) aspirin; (x) circadian rhythms; (y) acute trauma to the head; (z) chronic trauma to the head; (aa) some prescription drugs, tranquilizers, pain medications, anti-convulsants; (ab) barbiturates; (ac) disorders of the vestibular apparatus and brain stem; (ad) cerebellum dysfunction; (ae) heredity; (af) diet; (33) toxins; (ag) exposure to solvents, PCBs, dry-cleaning fumes, carbon monoxide; (ah) extreme chilling; (ai) lesions; (aj) continuous movement of the visual field past the eyes; and (ak) antihistamine use (Schultz v. State).
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The author would like to thank H. Anthony Semone, H. D. Kirkpatrick, Jorey Krawczyn, Robert McIntyre, Joel Wiesen, J. Ray Hays, and Troy McKinney who provided their support and feedback on this article.
Summary of Studies that Examined Either the SFSTs or Constituent Elements
|Pentilla et al. (1974)||F||SPa||T||.10||408||.85||.84||.88||.43||2.1||–||–|
|Tenhu and Pentilla (1976)||F||SP||T||.10||1952||.81||.85||.90||.36||2.5||–||–|
|Burns and Moskowitz (1977)||L||SFSTsc||J||.10||238||.27||.76||.84||.27||3.1||–||.67|
|Tharp et al. (1981a, b)||L||SFSTs||J||.10||441d||.28||.81||.64||.12||5.3||–||.65|
|L||AON||T||438||.28||.78, .88e||–||–||–||–||−.72b L|
|Anderson et al. (1983)||L, F||HGN||T||.10||1072f||–||.77,g.82||–||–||–||–||–|
|L, F||WAT||T||.10||1072f||–||.68,g .80||–||–||–||–||–|
|L, F||OLS||T||.10||1072f||–||.65,g .78||–||–||–||–||–|
|L, F||2 Testh||T||.10||1072f||–||.80,g .83||–||–||–||–||–|
|SCP||HGN and Obs.j,l||J||.10||300k||.21||.74||.95||.32||3.0||–||–|
|Norris (1985)||L||AON||T||38, 88m||.73, .90m|
|Good and Augsburger (1986)||F||HGNn||T||.10||2429||.92||.90||.96||.82||1.2||0.9o||–|
|Golding and Dobie (1986)||ER||AONp||T||.10||46||–||–||.96||–||–||–||–|
|Golding and Dobie (1986)||F||AON||T||.10||149q||–||–||–||–||–||–||−.89b|
|Streff et al. (1989)||SG||HGN||T||.10||70||.23||.76||.50||.17||3.0||–||.51r|
|Sussman et al. (1990)||F–B||SFSTss||J||.10||96||.29||.82||.75||.14||5.2||–||.70|
|Foss et al. (1990)||F||SFST||J||.10||190||.13t||.59||.68||.42||1.6||–||.20u|
|Perrine et al. (1993)||F||HGN||T||.05||185||.41t||–||.72||.08||9.0||–||.49u|
|McKnight and Langston (1993)||–||WAT||T||.08||–||–||–||.44||.22||2.0||0.6||–|
|Richman and Jakoblowski (1994)||L||HGN||T||.08||210k||.43||.87||.88||.13||6.6||–||–|
|Cole and Nowaczyk (1994)||L||WAT and OLSw||J||.10||294k||.00||.54||.46|
|Kennedy et al. (1994)||L||HGN||T||67x||.77|
|Kennedy et al. (1995)||L||HGN||T||62k||.64|
|Burns and Anderson (1995)z||F||SFSTs||J||.05||234||.79||.86||.89||.24||3.7||–||–|
|Burns and Dioquino (1997)||F||SFSTs||J||.08||256||.80||.93||.96||.18||5.3||–||–|
|Stuster and Burns (1998)aa||F||SFSTs||J||.04||83||.78||.80||.78||.17||4.7||–||–|
|McKnight et al. (1999)||L||HGN||T||.10||78k||–||–||–||–||–||–||.69|
|McKnight et al. (1999)||F–B||HGN||T||.10||60k||.35||.93||1.00||.10||9.8||4.5||.77|
|Burns et al. (2000)||L||GN||T||.08||48||.51||.93||1.00||.14||7.0||–||–|
|McKnight et al. (2002)||L||HGN||T||–||.55|
|McKnight et al. (2002)||F||HGN||T||.04||240k||–||–||.79||.38||2.1||1.3||.56|
|Citek et al. (2003)ac||L||HGN||T||.08||284k,ad||–||.73–.77||.80–.89||.29–.56||1.9–2.8||1.3–1.6||.63|
|Citek et al. (2003)ab||L||HGN||T||.10||284k,ac||–||.61–.69||.89–.97||.41–.46||1.7–2.2||1.4–1.7||u|
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Cite this article
Rubenzer, S.J. The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests: A Review of Scientific and Legal Issues. Law Hum Behav 32, 293–313 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10979-007-9111-y
- Driving while intoxicated
- Sobriety test
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
- Walk and Turn
- One Leg Stand
- Driving safety