DUI Field Sobriety Tests – Walk and Turn Test

The Walk and Turn Test is also one of the “so-called” three (3) NHTSA validated tests. Remembering NHTSA teaches in their manuals the importance of standardization. If the tests aren’t administered the same way NHTSA (pronounced nit-a) every time the validity of the test (such as it is) is compromised.

The officer is expected to demonstrate each test he administers but doesn’t expect to have him perform the entire test for you as officer safety considerations may be in play. The first part of the test is the instructions and demonstration. For this part of the test, the officer will instruct you to stand in a certain way before he tells you anything more. He will state:

“I want you to place your left foot on an imaginary line. I want you to put your right foot in front of your left foot with the heel of your right foot touching the toe of your left foot. Place your arms down to your sides and maintain this position until I have completed the instructions. DO NOT START THE TEST UNTIL I TELL YOU TO DO SO.” The officer is then prompted to ask you if you understand the instructions he has given you up to that point? (Part of this test, and all tests, is that you listen to the instructions and do not begin or practice the test until told to begin.)

The officer will then tell you to walk out 9 paces turn and return 9 paces. (Some officers vary the number of steps which proves not to be so standardized.) Now the turn is confusing for many so pay attention to the officer when he demonstrates the turn. (The officer will not turn his back on you.) The officer will tell you to keep the front foot on the line and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot. He will also tell you to keep your arms at your side, to watch your feet at all times, to count your steps out loud, and once you have started walking do not stop until you have completed the test. After all of this, you will be asked if you understand. If not, so state and tell him what you don’t understand.

There are a number of clues, (I wonder what word shrink came up with this term to describe failures by you to complete a test as demonstrated) the officer is told to look for while you are performing the test. They are:

a.) If you cannot remain in the position the officer placed you in with one foot in front of the other, that’s a clue. (must break the heel to toe stance)
b) If you begin the test before the officer finishes his instructions, that’s a clue.
c) If you stop walking during the test, that’s a clue. (must pause for several seconds)(note; the manual changed from 1995 to 2000 )
d) If you don’t touch your heel to toe, that’s a clue. (must be greater than one-half inch)
e) If you step off the line, that’s a clue. (one foot must be completely off the line)
f) If you use your arms to maintain your balance, that’s a clue. (May raise arm up to 6 inches for balance)
g) If you complete the turn in a manner unlike that demonstrated by the officer, that’s a clue.
h) If you complete the improper number of steps, that’s a clue. (However, counting the steps improperly is not counted against the suspect. Figure that one out.)
i) If a subject steps off the line three times or more, is in danger of falling, and/or cannot do the test all 8 clues are graded against the suspect.

It should here be noted, if a clue appears once or multiple times it is not to be counted more than once by the officer. By way of example: If you walked out 9 paces and returned 9 paces and completely stepped off the line once or every step it remains only one clue not as in this example 1 or 18.
There are some concerns this test presents for NHTSA and they acknowledge those concerns from the outset and they also present inconsistent data in different years of publication in their periodical.

NHTSA has acknowledged some people just cannot pass this standardized test; some of the reasons identified are as follows;

1. Individuals 65 years of age and older have difficulty performing this test.
2. People with back or leg problems have difficulty performing this test.
3. People with inner ear problems have difficulty performing this test.
4. Women (or men) with heels over two inches have difficulty taking this test. (If invited to take off your shoes complain about how the ground is affecting your performance).

2002, NHTSA Manual tells us the walk and turn test “should be conducted on a reasonably dry, hard, level, non-slippery surface.” Although Ms Burns observes, “….if the walk and turn test cannot be performed at the roadside, it should be performed elsewhere.” (2006 NHTSA MANUAL VIII-13)

Let us assume you have just left El Ranchito in Laguna Beach. You just said your goodbyes to your friend Ryan (a great bartender) and you get stopped by the Orange County Sheriff Department and he yanks you out of your car to take a series of tests. He has you do the walk and turn test. You stand in the geeky position and never do you come out of that position. You walk 9 paces out, turn, and return 9 paces, you don’t stop, step off that invisible line and walk out, and back exactly 9 paces. Even though you waited to begin the test until the officer told you to start and you did all the things asked of you properly in all 18 paces you missed by a small margin your heel to your toe and raided your arms for balance about 6 inches. Since the officer only has to find two clues you failed to perform, did you fail this test? No! Although most officers ignore this tolerance variable the manuals all tell us a subject performing this test is allowed to raise his hands for balance approximately 6 inches and the gap between, heel to toe, can have a variance on each step by one-half inch. Of course, officers do not follow these parameters.

The walk and turn test is divided into two separate sections. The first section is the instruction phase and the second section is the performance phase. This is asserted to be a divided attention part of the test. (I say nay, nay.) Although there is a divided attention factor in this test it has nothing to do with the sum of the tests individual parts.

(Note: This test uses your legs, knees, ankles, and an ability to turn without limiting your motion. It requires you to count aloud, estimate the number of paces you have taken, turn, and maintain your balance. Driving is 10 times harder than that described activity. A prosecutor will attempt to compare this far easier task of the walk and turn to the more difficult task of driving and assert you were very impaired, maybe even drunk when he/she only had to prove impairment and/or .08% or greater.