Sleep Deprivation and DUI Field Sobriety Tests

It is standard procedure in every DUI arrest in King County or elsewhere in the state of Washington for field sobriety tests to be administered, if conditions permit. There are a variety of factors that can influence the ability of a driver suspected of DUI to perform field sobriety tests. These can include the age of the driver, weather conditions, emotional conditions (nervousness, stress) and of course, the physical location of the tests. For instance, it is quite common for officers to administer field sobriety tests to a DUI suspect by the side of a freeway, while traffic is whizzing by at 60 miles per hour or faster. The noise and buffeting from the wind produced as cars and trucks speed by is impressive and distracting. Performance on the DUI field sobriety tests, especially balance tests, can also be impacted by lack of sleep. There has been some study of the impact of sleep deprivation on balance. A study entitled “Postural Control After a Night Without Sleep” (Fabbri, Martoni, et. al., Neuropsychologia 44 (2006) concluded that “sway” observed during the administration of the Romberg Test (a common DUI Field sobriety test) was measurably more pronounced in sober subjects after what the researchers called “twelve hours of nocturnal forced wakefulness.” Common sense of course tells us what the study confirmed –field sobriety tests that attempt to measure balance, coordination, and mental acuity, may or may not be valid indicators of intoxication in a DUI suspect. For the DUI field sobriety tests to mean anything, one must eliminate or account for other (non-DUI) factors that impair the ability to perform field sobriety tests.

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