Walk-and-Turn Test

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Drivers suspected of DUI / DWI in California often must perform field sobriety tests before being arrested. However, no matter how well the driver does on the tests, a drunk driving arrest is practically inevitable. The test is used solely to establish probable cause and create evidence for a court case. However, a skilled DUI / DWI lawyer from The Kavinoky Law Firm can successfully challenge field sobriety tests.

The Walk-and-Turn Test is one of three field sobriety tests standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like other field sobriety exercises, the Walk-and-Turn Test is a divided-attention test – it’s designed to detect both mental and physical impairment by forcing the driver to focus on two tasks simultaneously. A prosecutor will use the test results as circumstantial evidence that the driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs.

The Walk-and-Turn Test is administered in two parts. The driver must first stand heel-to-toe with arms down while listening to the instructions. The officer tells the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a real or imaginary line, turn, and return toward the officer in the same way. During the test, the officer will note any signs of impairment displayed by the driver.

The signs of intoxication the officer looks for include an inability to maintain balance during the test instructions, starting the test too soon, pausing while walking, an inability to touch heel to toe, veering off of the line, using the arms to balance, losing balance during the turn or inability to turn correctly, and miscounting the number of steps. If the officer spots two or more of these signs, he or she will assume that the driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .10 percent or greater, and an arrest for DUI / DWI will follow.

However, many of the so-called signs of intoxication watched for in the Walk-and-Turn Test can be caused by physical conditions unrelated to alcohol, such as illness or injury. Alcohol consumption causes both mental and physical impairment, but mental impairment always occurs first. Physical impairment can be disguised by those with a high tolerance for alcohol, but mental impairment cannot be hidden. Therefore, if the driver shows only physical difficulties but no mental impairment, the field sobriety test results can be successfully challenged.

This test is particularly challenging for drivers with back or leg injuries, individuals older than 65, overweight drivers, and people with inner-ear disorders. A driver who performs the test on uneven ground, or who is wearing high heels, also isn’t likely to perform well.

Sometimes the officer doesn’t even conduct the Walk-and-Turn Test properly, or doesn’t correctly interpret the results. A California criminal defense attorney with a proven track record of winning driving under the influence cases can determine whether factors other than alcohol impairment hindered the driver’s test performance, and challenge the results.