The Walk and Turn Test is one of the field sobriety tests that law enforcement might have you take in order to determine impairment. It is a divided attention test that consists of two stages: instructions and walking.
In the instructions stage, the subject must stand with their feet in heel-to-toe position, keep their arms at their sides, and listen to the instructions. The instructions stage divides the subject’s attention between a balancing task (standing while maintaining the heel-to-toe position) and an information processing task (listening and remembering instructions).
In the walking stage, the subject takes nine heel-to-toe steps, turn 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, turn in a prescribed manner, and use the other foot to take several small steps to complete the turn. The walking stage divides the subject’s 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).
The Walk and Turn Test is administered and interpreted in a standardized manner, i.e., the same way every time. Officer’s administering the Walk and Turn Test observe the subject’s performance for eight clues.
Walk and Turn Test Clues
- Can’t balance during instructions
- Starts too soon
- Stops while walking
- Doesn’t touch heel to toe
- Steps off line
- Uses arms to balance
- Loses balance on turn or turns incorrectly
- Takes the wrong number of steps
Inability to complete the Walk and Turn Test occurs when the subject:
- Steps off the line three or more times
- Is in danger of falling
- Cannot do the test
Original research shows that if a subject exhibits two or more of the clues, or cannot complete the test, the subject’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is likely to be above .10. This criterion has been shown to be accurate 68 percent of the time.
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