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New Hampshire police set up a sobriety checkpoint on Main Street in Keene this past weekend. The checkpoint resulted in the arrest of nine New Hampshire drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), according to a report in the Union-Leader.

The NH sobriety checkpoint in Keene was conducted as part of the increased efforts in New Hampshire and other states to prevent drunk or drugged driving by increasing enforcement of state and federal DUI laws. States banded together to create more sobriety checkpoints and put more officers on patrol over this past Labor Day weekend, because past studies have shown there are more injury-causing crashes involving drunk drivers during the summer holidays.

Now that Labor Day weekend is over, however, New Hampshire police are not letting their guard down when it comes to running sobriety checkpoints. Portsmouth police have planned to set up a sobriety checkpoint this weekend, September 9-11.

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The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) information on field sobriety testing covers the use of three separate tests, known as “standardized” field sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one-leg stand test. NHTSA cites statistics from multiple studies to support the claim that these tests are highly accurate when it comes to accurately identifying drivers whose blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is above the legal limit of 0.08 percent, or who are too impaired by alcohol or other drugs to drive a car safely. But are the tests as uniformly reliable as these statistics seem to claim?

At first glance, the numbers look good: NHTSA cites a 1981 study that concluded the three field sobriety tests, when used together, were 81 percent accurate in identifying people impaired by alcohol or drugs. A 1998 study also cited by NHTSA brought these numbers up to 91 percent overall, claiming that better officer training had made the tests more accurate. Even if these numbers are accurate, however, they still indicate that 10 to 20 percent of drivers arrested for drunk driving were not too impaired to legally drive a vehicle.

Breaking down the “overall” percentages, however, paints a different picture. For instance, the 81 percent “œoverall” score in the 1981 study includes an accuracy rate on the walk and turn test of just eight percent. Even the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, deemed most reliable in both studies, only identified 77 to 88 percent of impaired drivers accurately – a margin of error that could mean that as many as one in every four DUI arrests was based, at least in part, on inaccurate test results.

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