Using Field Sobriety Tests for Boating DUI in Arizona

Investigative Article: Uncovering the Legality and Efficacy of Field Sobriety Tests in Boating DUIs


Boating under the influence (BUI) is a serious offense that poses a significant danger to both the operator of the watercraft and those sharing the waterways with them. To combat and deter BUIs, law enforcement agencies often utilize field sobriety tests (FSTs) on suspected boaters. However, the legal and practical implications of FSTs in boating DUIs have come under scrutiny. This investigative article delves into the legality, efficacy, and potential controversy surrounding FSTs in BUI cases.

The Legality of FSTs in Boating DUIs

FSTs aim to test a boater's balance, coordination, and cognitive abilities, which are often compromised under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, the legality of FSTs in BUI cases varies by state. While some states have explicitly included FSTs as a permissible tool for determining BUI, others have not. In Arizona, for instance, law enforcement agencies can set up boating DUI checkpoints similar to roadside sobriety checkpoints to detect and deter OUI offenses on waterways. These checkpoints are legally upheld under guidelines that ensure they are conducted fairly. However, some critics argue that such checkpoints infringe on boaters' Fourth Amendment rights and may amount to unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Efficacy of FSTs in Boating DUIs

Even if FSTs are legally permissible, their effectiveness in accurately detecting BUI has been the subject of debate. Unlike standardized procedures for roadside sobriety tests, there is currently no standardized FST for BUI. Some commonly used FSTs for BUI include the one-leg stand, walk-and-turn, and horizontal gaze nystagmus. However, a study published in the Public Health Report found that FSTs are less effective in detecting BUI than breath tests. Another study published in the Journal of Safety Research found that FSTs may be particularly ineffective in detecting BUI in individuals who have a high tolerance for alcohol.

The Potential Controversy Surrounding FSTs in Boating DUIs

Apart from legal and practical considerations, FSTs in BUI cases may also face controversy and criticism due to their subjective nature. Unlike breath tests that rely on scientific measurements, FSTs largely rely on the observation and interpretation of law enforcement officers. Critics argue that there may be a high degree of subjectivity and bias in FSTs, which could lead to wrongful convictions and discriminatory enforcement. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice found that African American and Hispanic boaters are more likely to be stopped and searched for BUI than White boaters, even though they are not more likely to be intoxicated.

The Importance of Balancing Public Safety and Civil Liberties

Given the legal and practical implications of FSTs in BUI cases, it is essential to balance the need for public safety with protecting civil liberties. While FSTs can be a useful tool for detecting and deterring BUI, they must be administered fairly and accurately. To achieve this, law enforcement agencies should prioritize training officers to administer FSTs accurately and without bias. Standardizing FST procedures and ensuring that they are supported by scientific research can also enhance their validity and reliability.

The Bottom Line

Boating under the influence is a serious offense that requires appropriate measures to detect and deter it. While FSTs can be a useful tool for this purpose, their legality, efficacy, and potential for controversy must be carefully considered. By balancing public safety concerns with civil liberties, law enforcement agencies can effectively use FSTs to combat BUI while preserving fairness and accuracy in the process. Field Sobriety Tests in Boating DUIs