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Can a sickness cause you to fail a field sobriety test?

On Behalf of | Jun 22, 2023 | OWI (Drunk Driving) |

There were over 4000 alcohol-related crashes in Michigan in 2020, according to a report by the Michigan State Police. Field sobriety tests serve as key tools for law enforcement officers to assess possible impairment due to alcohol or drugs. However, these tests, while essential, may not always provide accurate results.

Among other things, certain health conditions can affect a person’s performance on field sobriety tests, leading to a false impression of impairment.

What are field sobriety tests?

Field sobriety tests typically involve a series of physical and cognitive tasks designed to assess a driver’s balance, coordination and cognitive function. These may include tasks such as standing on one leg, walking in a straight line and turning or the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

The accuracy of these tests depends largely on the individual’s physical and mental conditions at the time of testing. If a person is suffering from a medical condition or illness, it could affect their ability to perform these tasks, potentially leading to a false positive result.

How can sickness affect test results?

Certain illnesses can influence a person’s physical coordination, balance and cognitive function, all of which field sobriety tests measure. For instance, conditions such as vertigo, ear infections or neurological disorders can affect balance and coordination. Similarly, illnesses causing fatigue or weakness could also negatively impact performance on these tests.

Furthermore, conditions affecting eye movement, such as certain neurological disorders or eye infections, could result in a person failing the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which observes the involuntary jerking of the eyes. The officer may interpret these natural reactions to sickness as signs of impairment, leading to a misjudgment of the individual’s sobriety.

While field sobriety tests play a crucial role in identifying impaired drivers, it is essential to recognize their limitations. Health conditions and illnesses can influence the results of these tests, potentially leading to a misinterpretation of sobriety status. Field sobriety tests should be just one piece of the puzzle in determining an individual’s fitness to drive.