What is the walk and turn test?

The walk and turn test is a tool police use to spot and arrest drunk drivers. It has two parts. The first part is the instruction stage. The second part is the walking stage. During these two stages, police look for eight clues to see if a motorist is DWI. If police see two or more clues, then the driver “failed” the test.

However, many motorists are surprised to learn they failed the walk and turn test. This is because police do not tell the driver the specific clues they are looking for during the test. In effect, this makes the walk and turn test a blind test. Worst of all, police use these clues to help them decide if they should arrest the driver for DWI.

This post will show you how the walk and turn test works. We will also go over the instructions and steps police and drivers must follow during the test. In addition, we will review the eight clues police use to score the test. Finally, we will talk about three reasons why sober drivers often fail this test.

What are the steps for the walk and turn test?

Time needed: 2 minutes.

The walk and turn test has two stages. They are the instruction stage and the walking stage. Below are the steps for both of these stages.

  1. Instruction Stage: Police tell the driver how to stand and explain how the test works.

    “Place your left foot on the line.” The line can be real or fake. For example, it can be a parking line or it can be one the driver imagines in his head.

    “Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot. The heel of the right foot should be against the toe of the left foot.”

    “Place your arms down at your sides.”

    “Maintain this position until I have completed the instructions.” “Do you understand the instructions so far?”

  2. Demonstration Stage: Officer shows the motorist how the test works.

    “When I tell you to start, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back.” (Demonstrate.)

    “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. (Demonstrate.)

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

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

    “Begin, and count your first step from the heel-to-toe position as ‘One.'”

  3. Officer scores the test.

    If the officer counts two or more clues during the test, then this means the driver failed the test.

What are the walk and turn test clues?

According to NHTSA, police look for the following eight clues:

  1. The driver cannot keep balance during the instruction part of the test. This happens when the driver breaks the heel-to-toe position while the officer is giving the instructions. But police cannot count this clue if the driver sways or uses his arms for balance during the instruction stage.
  2. Starts before the officer finishes giving instructions. The driver must wait until the officer finishes giving the instructions. If the driver starts while the officer is giving the instructions, then the officer will count this as a clue.
  3. Stops while walking. If the driver stops for several seconds, then police will count this as a clue. But police cannot count this if the driver is walking slowly.
  4. Does not touch heel to toe. The driver leaves a space of more than one-half inch between the heel and toe on any step.
  5. Steps off the line. This occurs if the driver puts one foot completely off the line.
  6. Uses arms for balance. The driver raises one or both arms more than six inches from the sides in order to keep his balance.
  7. Improper turn. This happens if the driver moves the front foot off the line. It is also a clue if the driver spins or pivots around.
  8. Incorrect number of steps. This is a clue if the driver takes more than or less than nine steps in either direction.

Why do sober drivers fail the walk and turn test?

There are three major reasons sober drivers do not pass the walk and turn test. They are stress, age or medical condition, and testing conditions. A look at each one of these factors will show us how police can mistakenly decide that a sober driver is a drunk driver.

1. Stress.

DWI tests are stressful. This is because drivers know that if they “fail” the test, they may go to jail. Consequently, drivers tend to be on edge, which means they don’t listen to or follow the instructions like they normally would. This is a big issue in DWI trials.

Jurors can understand what it is like to do something under stressful conditions. For example, we all know what it is like to take a school exam that will decide if we pass or fail a class. Or going to a job interview. Another example is public speaking.

In each of these examples, the person is in a stressful situation. And his or her nerves may affect how they perform during the job interview or the public speech. The walk and turn test is no different.

2. Age or Medical Conditions.

Young athletic people perform better than people who are older or have a medical problems. An example of this is a person with a bad back or bad knees. They may not be able to perform this test by the book.

Likewise, a person that is overweight may also have trouble completing the test. On top of that, older people may not remember the instructions like a younger person does. The end result is that the person’s age and health can affect the test results.

3. Testing Conditions.

Where the test is done also matters. In most DWI cases, the driver does this test either on the side of the road or in a parking lot. This means that the ground is not always even. And it also means that there is not always a parking line or lane a person can use for this test. These factors can cause a person to step off the line or raise their arms for balance.

Last of all, the weather may play a role on how well a person does during the test. Sometimes it may be cold outside or raining. This too can affect how a person performs on the test.

DWI Defense.

The walk and turn test is an important tool police use in DWI cases. Together with the HGN test and the One-Leg-Stand test, police use these three tests to take suspected drunk drivers off the road. But these tests are not foolproof. Many things can go wrong if police do not follow the test rules.

As a result, you should review the DWI arrest video carefully with your attorney. This review should include looking for a pattern of police errors when they are giving the field sobriety tests. And it should also include looking for an innocent reason or reasons that the driver did not “pass” the tests.

Because together–the police errors and the innocent explanations–can form a strong foundation for a DWI defense.

San Antonio DWI Defense Attorney Genaro R. Cortez.

Questions about your Bexar County DWI case? Call 210-733-7575 for a free case consult.