Criminal Law

The Walk-and-Turn Field Sobriety Test

By Joshua Egan, Attorney
Read about the “walk-and-turn” field sobriety test that police use during DUI investigations.

The “walk-and-turn” test is one of three standardized field sobriety tests (FST) that police use to determine whether a motorist is too intoxicated to be driving. Generally, police consider it a useful indicator of impairment but less reliable than the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test.

(According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the three standardized FSTs are reliable tools for determining whether a driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .1% or more.)

Like the one-leg-stand (another standardized FST), the walk-and-turn test is meant to test a driver's ability to perform tasks that require coordination and divided attention. The idea is that an inebriated person will be less coordinated and able to focus on directions than someone who’s sober.

How is the Walk-and-Turn Test Administered?

First, the officer is supposed to administer the test on a surface that is reasonably dry, hard, level, and non-slippery. A driver wearing shoes with heels more than two inches high should remove them before taking the test.

Next are the instructions. Most officers tell the driver something like:

  1. "Put your left foot on the line."
  2. "Put your right foot on the line in front of your left foot, with the heel of your right foot touching the toe of your left foot."
  3. "Place your arms down by your sides."
  4. "Stay in this position until I tell you to begin, and don’t start to walk until I tell you to do so."
  5. "When I say you can begin, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back."
  6. "As you turn, keep your front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with your other foot."
  7. "As you’re walking, keep your arms by your sides, watch your feet, and count your steps aloud."
  8. "Once you start walking, don't stop until you’ve finished the test."

Officers are supposed to demonstrate each of these directions as they instruct the driver, and at the end, ask if the driver understands.

While the motorist performs the walk-and-turn, the officer should avoid making any distracting movements.

What are the Walk-and-Turn Clues?

While giving the instructions and observing the motorist walk the line, the officer looks for "clues" of intoxication. The eight clues are the driver:

  • being unable to maintain balance while listening to instructions
  • starting the test before instructions are finished
  • stopping while walking the line
  • failing to touch heel to toe by more than half an inch
  • stepping off the line
  • raising arms more than six inches from the side of the body to maintain balance
  • failing to turn correctly, and
  • taking more or fewer steps than instructed.

If the officer observes the same clue more than once, it should count only as one clue. If the driver can't do the test at all, the officer will typically record all eight clues. According to the NHTSA, the existence of two or more clues indicates the driver’s BAC is most likely above .10%.

Is Walk-and-Turn Evidence Admissible in Court?

Generally, officers are allowed to testify in court about observations they made during a walk-and-turn test. However, some states require officers to prove they administered the test by NHTSA standards before they’re allowed to testify about a driver’s performance on the walk-and-turn.

Talk to an Attorney

The DUI laws vary by state, and the facts of every case are different. If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, you should get in touch with a DUI lawyer. An experience DUI attorney in your area can talk to you about how the law applies to the facts of your case.

Have a dui/dwi question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a DUI/DWI lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
 
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys
FACING A DUI?

Talk to a DUI Defense attorney

We've helped 115 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you