The Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Test

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The Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Test

The Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Test is one of the battery of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).  The manual used to train all officers in the United States, the NHTSA manual, contains the instructions and strict testing protocol for this test also. There are two stages for the walk and turn test.

The Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Test  – Instructional Stage.  They are the “instructional stage” where the tested individual is required to place the left foot on a real or imaginary line with the right foot in front of it touching heel to toe and to keep the arms down to the side. The tested individual is told not to begin the test until told to do so and asked if they understand.

“In the instruction stage, the subject must stand with their feet in a heel to toe position, keep their arms to the side, and listen to the instructions. The Instructions Stage divides the subject’s attention between a balancing task (standing while maintaining a heel to toe position) and an information processing task (listening to and remembering instructions)” (P. VII-3, NHTSA SFST Student Manual, 2002).

The Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Test  – Walking Stage.  The second stage is the “walking stage”, where the tested person is told to walk heel to toe nine steps along the line, turn in a prescribed manner, and return back down the line heel to toe nine steps. The tested individual is told to look at their feet, count the steps out loud, keep the arms to the side and once they begin the test not to stop walking until it is completed. They are again asked if they understand the instruction and if so they are told to begin the test.

“In the Walking Stage, the subject takes nine heel to toe steps, turns in a prescribed manner and take nine heel to toe steps back, while counting the steps out loud, while watching their feet. During the turn the subject keeps their front foot on the line, turns in a prescribed manner, and uses the other foot to take several small steps to complete the turn. The walking stage divides the subjects attention among a balancing task (walking heel to toe and turning) a small muscle control task (counting out loud) and a short term memory task (recalling the number of steps and the turning instructions)” P. VII-3, NHTSA SFST Student Manual, 2002).

There are eight clues associated with the walk and turn test. Two can be assessed in the “instructional stage” (starts too soon, loses balance) and the remaining six in the” walking stage” (misses heel to toe, steps off line, uses arms to balance, stops while walking, too many steps, improper turn).

Instruction stage: Initial Positioning and verbal Instructions

The Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Test  - Instructional Stage.

For standardization in the performance of this test have the suspect assume the heel to toe stance by giving the following verbal instructions accompanied by demonstrations:

  • Place your left foot on the line (real or imaginary). Demonstrate
  • Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot with the heel of the right foot against the toe of left foot. Demonstrate.
  • Place your arms down at your sides. Demonstrate.
  • Keep this position until I tell you to begin. Do not start to walk until told to do so.
  • Do you understand the instructions so far? (Make sure suspect indicates understanding).

Demonstration and instructions for the walking stage
Explain the test requirements using the following instructions accompanied by demonstrations:

  • When I tell you to start take nine heel to toe steps, turn, and take nine heel to toe steps back. (Demonstrate 3 heel to toe steps).
  • 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, do not stop until you have completed the test.
  • Do you understand the instructions? (Make sure suspect understands)
  • Begin and count your first step from the heel to toe position as one.  (P. VIII-9, NHTSA SFST Student Manual)

A police  report will list, or fail to list if you were told to maintain the instructional position and not begin the test until instructed to do so. If anything is omitted,  or changed from these administrative protocols, the test has been altered and is no longer a standardized, validated sobriety test. As a result of the changes having been made the test has been compromised and the results will be invalid and unreliable.

NHTSA says that: “IT IS NECESSARY TO EMPHASIZE THIS VALIDATION APPLIES ONLY WHEN: THE TESTS ARE ADMINISTERED IN THE PRESCRIBED STANDARDIZED MANNER, THE STANDARDIZED CLUES ARE USED TO ASSESS THE SUSPECTS PERFORMANCE, THE STANDARDIZED CRITERIA ARE EMPLOYED TO INTERPRET THAT PERFORMANCE. IF ANY ONE OF THE STANDARDIZED FIELD SOBRIETY TEST ELEMENTS IS CHANGED THE VALIDITY IS COMPROMISED” (P.VIII-19, SFST student manual, HS 178 R1/02).

THE STANDARDIZED FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS ARE NOT AT ALL FLEXIBLE. THEY MUST BE ADMINISTERED EACH TIME, EXACTLY AS OUTLINED IN THIS COURSE (P. 8, SFST Administrators Guide, HS 178 R1/02).

Walk and Turn Limitations

“The original research indicated that individuals over 65 years of age, who have back, leg or middle ear problems had difficulty performing this test. Individual wearing heels more than 2 inches high should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes” (P. VIII-11, NHTSA SFST Student Manual, 2002).
Examples of conditions that may interfere with suspect’s performance of the walk and turn test:

  • Wind/weather conditions;
  • Suspects age, weight;
  • Suspects footwear.

Test Scoring

For this test, the original validation studies for the Walk and Turn, from a 1977 study, indicated that two or more of the following clues corresponded to a blood alcohol level above .10%, and a 1996 study stated two or more clues corresponded to a level above .08:

  • Can’t balance during instructions.
  • Starts too soon.
  • Stops while walking.
  • Doesn’t touch heel to toe.
  • Steps off the line.
  • Uses arms for balance.
  • Improper Turn / Loses balance on turn.
  • Wrong number of steps.

(Our DUI Defense Lawyers usually review any patrol car video carefully, while being mindful of the eight cues above).

If you have questions about a field sobriety test, contact our firm at the phone number for our firm, (949) 682-5316,

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