Standards For The Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) Program

Field Sobriety Test Directory

  1. Introduction
  2. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  3. Walk and Turn Test
  4. One Leg Stand Test
  5. Standards for the Standard Field Sobriety Testing Program

Psychophysical tests should require evaluation of the subject’s appearance and condition, ability to follow instructions, as well as balance and coordination. These types of tests are called Divided Attention Tests. They require the subject to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. They divide the subject’s attention between mental and physical tasks.

Studies have shown that a person who is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage may be able to perform one of these tasks but rarely both. If under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, people are likely to make certain predictable errors while attempting these tasks.

Since the mid 1970’s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with the cooperation and assistance of the law enforcement community, has conducted research that resulted in the development of a battery of three standardized field sobriety tests (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn and the One Leg Stand) to assist police officers in detecting impaired drivers. These tests, formerly referred to as Improved Sobriety Tests, are now the Standard that the Federal Government wants to be utilized and is in fact taught by the New Jersey State Police.

The program, which was previously termed the Improved Sobriety Testing, was validated in laboratory and field studies conducted by the Southern California Research Institute. These tests were initially developed by the Los Angeles Police Department Training in how to conduct the tests is included in the NHTSA course “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.”

In 1986, the Advisory Committee on Highway Safety of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) passed a resolution which recommended that law enforcement agencies adopt and implement the field sobriety testing program developed by NHTSA. As the program has grown, it has become apparent that in order to insure continued success, nationally accepted standards must be established. These standards which establish criteria for the selection and training of SFST practitioners would help insure the continued high level of success of the SFST program. In 1992, the IACP Highway Safety Committee recommended the development of this system of nationally accepted standards.

In April of 1992, the IACP and NHTSA sponsored a meeting at the headquarters of IACP in Arlington,Virginia. Persons invited to this meeting included SFST instructors from several states, curriculum specialists and training administrators. The participants met in working groups to reach a consensus concerning the many issues relating to the SFST program and to develop recommended minimum standards to the IACP Advisory Committee on Highway Safety. The standards were drafted and presented to the committee for their review at the mid-year meeting in June 1992.

The Advisory Committee on Highway Safety by resolution adopted the National Standards for the SFST Program. (The Standards were subsequently approved by voting membership of the IACP). In order to maintain credibility and integrity of the program, agencies that use a training program other than that is currently approved by the IACP must have the alternative curriculum approved by the IACP Advisory Committee on Highway Safety as meeting the required learning objectives. This is supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Presently, SFST Training must be 16 hours in length and include at least two controlled drinking sessions utilizing volunteer drinkers. This is accordance with section 1.2 of the Standards For Training In Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.

In section 1.4 in order to satisfactorily complete the classroom portion of the training, SFST candidates must complete the IACP-approved final examination with a score of not less than eighty percent. Candidates scoring less than 80% on the final may be retested one time under the supervision of a SFST instructor. The retest shall be completed not less than 15 nor more than 30 days following the completion of the classroom training. The examination used shall not have been administered to the candidate previously. If the candidate does not achieve a passing score on reexamination, the candidate must retake the classroom portion of the training and pass the final examination.

In section III it is recommended that each agency develop refresher or in service training, as needed, to ensure that SFST trained personnel maintain their proficiency in the administration of their total DUI/DWI enforcement program.

The NJSP requires that the student obtain 20 practice tests prior to being considered certified in the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. There is no time limit on when these tests can be obtained. The U.S. D.O.T. requires 35 practice tests within a six month period. A refusal can not be considered a practice test as the evaluation of the suspect must be corroborated by a blood alcohol reading. The officer is trained to conduct the HGN test last during his practice test period and not to formulate an opinion based on the results or use it for probable cause to arrest. They are told not to document the test due to this.

At no time may a person that is tested be used more than once on a practice test. As a result of this it is necessary to review the documentation of the practice tests in order to determine if the practitioner was properly.

Field Sobriety Test Directory

  1. Introduction
  2. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  3. Walk and Turn Test
  4. One Leg Stand Test
  5. Standards for the Standard Field Sobriety Testing Program
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