Walk & Turn – DUI / DWI field sobriety testing

Police who suspect a motorist of DUI / DWI often direct the driver to perform a field sobriety test. One of three standardized field sobriety tests recognized by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the walk and turn test. The officer’s observations during the test are typically used to support a drunk driving prosecution. A New York defense attorney skilled in defending clients against drunk driving charges can effectively challenge the results of the walk and turn and other field sobriety tests.

This test, like other field sobriety exercises, is a divided-attention test – it’s designed to detect both mental and physical impairment. Prosecutors will try to prove that any variation between the way the officer explained and demonstrated the tests, and the manner in which the driver performed the tests is proof of mental or physical impairment.

The officer administers the test in two parts – first by directing the driver to stand heel-to-toe, arms down, while listening to the test instructions. The officer then instructs the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a real or imaginary line, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back toward the officer. While the driver performs the test, the officer watches for any signs that the driver is impaired.

The eight signs that the officer looks for are inability to balance during instructions, starting the test too soon, stopping while walking, inability to touch heel to toe, stepping off of the line, using his or her arms to balance, loss of balance during the turn or inability to turn correctly, and taking the wrong number of steps.

If the officer notices two or more of these signs, he or she likely will conclude that the driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or greater, and the driver will be arrested for drunk driving. However, many of the “clues” of impairment noted in the walk and turn test can be caused by physical conditions other than alcohol, such as injury or illness. Remember that alcohol intoxication causes both mental and physical impairment, and mental impairment always occurs first. If only physical impairment is present, a charge of driving while impaired can be successfully challenged.

An experienced DUI / DWI defense lawyer knows that many signs of impairment noted in the walk and turn test can be caused by factors other than alcohol. The test is especially unsuited for people with back or leg injuries, individuals older than 65, and those with inner-ear disorders. A driver who takes the test on uneven ground, or an individual wearing shoes with heels higher than two inches also may not perform well on the walk and turn test.

Sometimes police officers don’t administer the walk and turn test correctly, or don’t interpret the results the way they should. The best way to challenge a DUI / DWI charge that stems from a walk and turn test is to consult with an attorney with a proven track record of challenging drunk driving cases.