As you pass a parking lot at night, you see the familiar red and blue lights of a patrol car. Standing there in the headlights is a guy walking heel to toe with an officer closely watching his every move. Immediately you think “Probably another drunk driver!”, and you may be right. But what is the officer actually looking for when he has the person walk that line, and how does that help determine whether someone is impaired?
The test being conducted is called the “Walk and Turn.” It is one of three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests used by law enforcement to determine whether someone is impaired. The other two are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, and One Leg Stand tests. The word “standardized” is used because the tests themselves have been subject to a rigorous scientific validation process to ensure their accuracy.
The Walk and Turn test is designed to see whether alcohol is affecting your ability maintain balance, and also to follow direction. The officer will give you the following directions:
– Stand with your hands at your side and feet together;
– The officer will identify a line on the ground he wants you to walk;
– When the officer says “go,” begin by placing one foot in front of the other, with the heel of the front foot touching the toe of the back foot;
– Once you start the test, do not stop;
– Take nine (9) steps forward;
– On the ninth step, pivot 180 degrees and then take 8 heel-to-toe steps back to the starting point.
– The officer will then demonstrate the test for you.
So what is the officer looking for as he watches you perform the test? First, he looks to see if you were able to maintain balance while he was giving you the instructions. He then looks to see if you started the test too soon. Remember, he said not to start until he said “go.” As you are performing the test, he watches to see if you have to stop to regain your balance. He looks to see if you are actually touching your heel to toe as instructed. He looks to see if you step off the line you are supposed to be walking on. Using your arms to balance is also another thing he needs to take note of, as well as whether or not you did the turn at the half way point correctly. Lastly, he will make sure you took the appropriate number of steps.
In all, there are eight (8) clues the officer looks for while you are performing the test. Each failure constitutes a clue, and According to statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if 2 out of 8 clues are present, there is a 79% chance your blood alcohol level is .08% or higher. It is important to note that often, the officer can spot two (2) clues before you really get started (i.e. lack of balance during instructions and starting the test too soon).
Obviously, the performance on this test alone will not be enough to convict you of a DUI, but it will be evidence of impairment at trial. Additionally, the test, in connection with the other tests, will be enough to allow the officer to request that you take a blood, breath, or urine test to confirm whether you are DUI.