Walk and Turn Test

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted research to validate research concerning several field sobriety tests.  Please note: all information referenced to “NHTSA” is from their February 2006 Edition, DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.

I am using the language from NHTSA  and DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, because law enforcement is trained with this information and book.  I want you, the reader, to see what law enforcement if being told about DUI investigations, because you have more likely than not, been subjected to a DUI related investigation conducted in part based on techniques and procedures attributed to NHTSA.

NHTSA directs the officer to administer three scientifically validated field sobriety tests.  Based on the performance on these tests, as well as the observations made concerning the driving and face to face contact, the officer must then decide whether to arrest the driver for a suspected DUI.

One of the three standardized field sobriety tests is the “Walk and Turn Test” (abbreviated as “WAT”).

The Walk and Turn Test is a divided attention test consisting of two stages:



In the instructions stage, the person must stand with their feet in heel to toe position, keep their arms at their sides, and listen to the instructions.  The instructions stage divide the person’s attention between maintaining their heel to toe position and information processing (listening to and remember instructions).  (All information is from Page VII-5).

In the walking stage, the person takes nine heel to toe steps, turns in a directed manner, and takes nine heel to toe steps back, while counting the steps out loud, and watching their feet.  During the turn, the person must keep their front foot on the line, turn in the manner as demonstrated, and use the other foot to take several small steps to complete the turn.  The walking stage divides the person’s attention between balancing, counting out loud and short turn memory (recalling the walking and turning instructions).  (All information is from Page VII-5).

Procedures for Walk and Turn Testing (WAT) per NHTSA

1.  Instruction stage: initial positioning and verbal instructions for Walk and Turn Testing (WAT) per NHTSA

For standardization in the performance of this test, the person performing it must assume the heel to toe stance and be given verbal instructions followed by demonstrations.

The officer must state and then show:

“Place your left foot on the line.” (real or imaginary).  Then the officer must demonstrate.

“Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with heel of right foot against toe of left foot.”  Then the officer must demonstrate.

“Place your arms down at your sides.”  Then the officer must demonstrate.

“Maintain this position until I have completed the instructions.  Do not start to walk until told to do so.”  Then the officer must demonstrate.

“Do you understand the instructions so far?”  NHTSA reiterates: “Make sure suspect indicates understanding.”  (All information is from Page VIII-9).

2.  Demonstrations and instructions for the Walking Stage for Walk and Turn Testing (WAT) per NHTSA

The officer must explain the test requirements, using the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

“When I tell you to start, take nine heel to toe steps, turn, and take nine heel to toe steps back.”  (The officer must demonstrate THREE heel to toe steps.)

“When you turn, keep the front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot, like this.”  (The officer must demonstrate.)

“While you are walking, keep your arms at your sides, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out aloud.”

“Once you start walking, don’t stop until you have completed the test.”

“Do you understand the instructions?” NHTSA reiterates: “Make sure suspect indicates understanding.”  

“Begin, and count your first step from the heel to toe position as ‘One’.” (All information is from Page VIII-9).

3.  Test interpretation for Walk and Turn Testing (WAT) per NHTSA

NHTSA claims that research has shown that the following eight clues or behaviors listed below is likely to be observed in someone with a BAC above .10%:  (All information concerning the eight clues is from Pages VIII-10 and 11).

A.  Cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions.

Two tasks are required at the beginning of the test.  The person must balance heel to toe on the line, and at the same time, listen carefully to the instructions.  Typically, a person who is impaired cannot do both.  The officer must record (report) if the person does not maintain the heel to toe position throughout the instructions.  The officer is NOT to record if the person sways or uses the arms to balance but maintains the heel to toe position.

B.  Starts before the instructions are finished.

The officer specifically should have instructed the person to not begin until the officer has completely finished with the instructions.  The officer must report if the person does not wait and begins before all instructions have been completed.

C.  Stops while walking.

The person pauses for several seconds.  The officer is NOT to report if the person is merely walking slowly.

D.  Does not touch heel to toe

The person leaves a space of more than one half inch between the heel and toe on any step.

E.  Steps off the line.

The person steps so that one foot is ENTIRELY off the line.

F.  Uses arms to balance.

The person raises one or both arms more than six inches from the sides in order to maintain balance.

G.  Improper turn.

The person removes the front foot from the line while turning.  Also, the officer is to report if the person does not follow instructions as demonstrated, ie spins or pivots around.

H.  Incorrect number of steps

If the person takes more or fewer than nine steps, the officer must report it.

If the person cannot do the test, the officer must record any clues and report the reason that the person cannot do the test.  Inability to complete the Walk and Turn Test occurs when a person

steps off the line three or more times

is in danger of falling

cannot do the test

If the person has difficulty with the test (ie steps ENTIRELY off the line), the officer must continue the test from that point.  If the test is repeated from the beginning, it may lose its value.

An officer is warned to LIMIT his or her movements while the person is performing the test, because the officer may then become a distraction.

Walk and turn tests must be done on a designated straight line and on a reasonably dry, hard, level, nonslippery surface.  NHTAS claims that recent field validation studies show that “varying environmental conditions have not affected a suspect’s ability to perform this test.”  However, NHTSA gives examples of conditions that may interfere with a person’s performance of the walk and turn test that include: wind/weather conditions, age and weight and footwear. (All information is from Page VIII-11).

The original research shows that persons over 65 years of age, or with back, leg or inner ear problems have difficulty in performing this test.  Persons wearing heels over two inches high should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes. (Page VIII-11).

At the end of the walk and turn test, each clue may appear several times, but can only be counted once. (Page VIII-11).

Based on original research, a person who has two or more clues on the walk and turn test OR who fails to complete it, has a BAC of over .10%.  This criterion has been shown to be accurate 68% of the time. (Page VIII-11).

If a person has four or more clues in the HGN and two or more clues in the walk and turn test, the person can be classified as above .10% BAC 80% of the time.  (Page VIII-11).

Find out how you can defend against your DUI arrest!  Please contact a highly competent and experienced DUI lawyer such as Mark Blair for a free, informative and confidential consultation to develop your DUI defense!  Mark has over 26 years of DUI experience and specializes in DUI defense.  Mark has represented thousands of persons who have suffered a DUI arrest.  Please call Mark Blair at (408) 295-4343, (650) 344-4343, (510) 845-4343, (415) 664-4343 (925) 935-4343 or (707) 252-4343.

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