Walk-and-Turn Field Sobriety Test

Walk-and-Turn Field Sobriety Test

The walk-and-turn test is one of the standardized field sobriety tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in conjunction with the Southern California Research Institute to assist police officers in detecting drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  The walk-and-turn test is a divided attention test.  That is to say, it requires you to divide your attention between the mental task of listening to and following instructions and the physical task of walking and turning in a straight line.

In the walk-and-turn test, you are instructed to take nine steps in a heel-to-toe fashion in a straight line.  After the ninth step, you then must turn on one foot and return in the opposite direction in a heel-to-toe fashion.  While you are completing the walk-and-turn test, the police officer is making note of the presence of the following seven indicators of impairment: 

(1) whether you are unable to maintain your balance while listening to the officer’s instructions; (2) whether you begin walking before the officer has completed the instructions; (3) whether you stop while walking in order to regain your balance; (4) whether you actually touch your feet heel-to-toe; (5) whether you use your arms to maintain your balance; (6) whether you lose your balance while turning; and (7) whether you take an incorrect number of steps.  The presence of two or more of these indicators is evidence of impairment.  That is to say, if you exhibit two or more of these indicators, your blood alcohol content (BAC) will be over the legal limit. 

The walk-and-turn test has been criticized as both inaccurate and unreliable.  Because the test requires the police officer to make a subjective determination of seven indicators of impairment, there is a chance for the police officer to be biased by his preconceived opinion of whether or not you are impaired.  Additionally, critics believe that tests such as the walk-and-turn test are designed to fail and rarely result in a finding of sobriety rather than impairment.