The “Walk-and-Turn” DUI Test
The Walk & Turn is a “test” that is often used by police officers to detect impairment from someone they suspect is DUI. I say the word “test” in quotes because it really should be referred to as an “exercise” instead. Calling it a test makes it sound to a jury like something you can pass or fail. You do NOT want a jury to think that. And trust me, EVERYONE, even Olympic gymnasts, can fail this “test” dead sober.
If you are reading this, chances are you have already been arrested and accused of DUI. And more then likely, you have already submitted to the field sobriety exercises, including the Walk & Turn, and “failed.” It’s obviously too late now to take the advice of NEVER submitting to the exercises. Instead, you should read what is written below very carefully, and contact an experienced attorney in your state for help.
What to Expect
The Walk & Turn is a divided attention test. That means that not only are you being evaluated on your ability to perform the actual walking and turning, but also how well you are able to listen and follow the directions.
When performing the Walk & Turn, you will be instructed to take nine steps heel-to-toe along a straight line. You will then turn on one foot (usually by taking small steps in a circle with your other foot) and take nine steps back down the line heel-to-toe. It may sound relatively simple but it’s a LOT harder then you think.
Designed for failure
Although it may sound easy, the Walk & Turn is actually designed so that people will fail it. Walking a line heel-to-toe tight-rope style is not something you had to do in order to get your driver’s license from the DMV when you were 16! So why would you do it now? And what the heck does it have anything to do with your ability to drive a car? Easy – you shouldn’t, and it DOESN’T!
Listed below are reasons why the Walk & Turn is designed for you to fail – and thus why you should NEVER consent to doing it:
1. They “test” you right from the start. That’s right, while they are giving you the instructions, before the test has even begun, the police will tell you to put one foot on the line, with the other foot directly in front of it (like you are walking on a tight-rope in the circus). They tell you to remain in that uncomfortable position while they explain to you the instructions (how many steps you are going to take, when and how to turn, etc.). The instructions can last up to a few minutes, and often the officer will demonstrate for you what you will be asked to do. What they are NOT telling you, however, is that if you move your feet from that heel-to-toe position during the instructions, they will count that against you. That’s right – they count it against you as a “clue” or “cue” – an indicator you are impaired. And i’m not talking falling down wasted. If you even move your foot from that abnormal stance back to a normal, standing position, the officer will mark it down – and actually say that you “lost your balance” during the instructions.
Wait, what’s a “clue” or “cue”? A “clue” (or sometimes called a “cue”) is an indicator that the suspect cannot perform the Walk & Turn to “standards”. There are a total of 9 possible clues, based on 8 indicators of impairment that are being scored. If the officer observes any of the following, they will mark it down and it will be counted against you. It only takes 2 clues to “fail” the test. They are listed below:
- Cannot keep balance while listening to instructions.
- Starts before instructions are finished.
- Stops to regain balance while walking.
- Fails to touch heel-to-toe. (even if you fail to do so just once, or the entire exercise, it is counted against you the same way).
- Loses balance while walking/steps off line. (if you step off the line even just one small step, they will say you “lost your balance”)
- Uses arms for balance. (the natural thing to want to do while walking a “tightrope” is put your arms out helicopter style. But you can’t.)
- Does not perform turn correctly.
- Takes the incorrect number of steps.
Additionally, the officer has an option of saying “Cannot do test” (which he will mark if you step off line three or more times or if he feels there is some reason you are unable to perform the test at all).
Thus, even if you perfectly walk a straight line heel-to-toe and turn perfectly and take the correct number of steps, you will still “fail” if you move back to a normal standing position during the instructions and start the test before you are told to do so. How does that sound fair? How does that mean you can’t drive? It isn’t! It doesn’t!
2. Monkey See, Monkey Do. Unfortunately, most of us learn by doing, not watching. And most unfortunate, it is inherent human nature for people to mimic or “ape” each other while engaged in conversation. Thus while you are being explained instructions for how to do something, it is only natural that you will move your body in such a way as to actually start doing the behavior. And if someone is demonstrating something to you, you naturally will want to make movements with your body to mimic that behavior as well. Why is this bad you wonder? Because remember the “clues” from above? Starting the exercise before you are told is a clue, and so is moving out of the starting position before the instructions are done. Thus, if you (like any other normal SOBER person would naturally want to do) move to mimic the officer, you already will have “failed” the test before you even got a chance to try it. Sounds fair right? WRONG!
3. Sometimes a REAL line isn’t even used. If a real line isn’t used, what is used? An IMAGINARY line. Wait, what??!! Yep – even though the guidelines the officers’ are supposed to follow say that a real solid painted line or crack in the road is to be used, some jurisdictions allow the officers to “test” you for the Walk & Turn using an imaginary line. Now how they can tell if you stepped off an imaginary line is beyond me, but it’s actually done. I told you it was designed for people to fail!
4. It’s natural for people to “fail” something on the first try. Chances are you have never in your life done the Walk & Turn exercise, unless you have been previously suspected of DUI. Imagine this scenario – you are pulled over suspected of DUI, you are nervous and want to cooperate with the officer so you agree to submit to the test. You are on the side of a major highway, on a narrow shoulder, with cars zipping past you. It’s windy. Maybe it’s cold or raining. It’s late at night. You can barely hear the officer’s instructions and you are so nervous its difficult to pay attention. Do you REALLY think you are gonna perform this “test” perfectly under those conditions the first time you ever try it? Of course not! Just like the first time you swing a baseball bat, you will not hit a home run. You will strike out!
5. The police don’t ask you the right questions. Before the police are supposed to even ask you to submit to the exercise, they are supposed to ask you about any illness or injuries you may have. The problem is that not only do many of them never ask, but the ones that do ask you, ask the WRONG question! They will say something like “do you have any injuries or illnesses that would PREVENT you from being able to perform this test.” The reason why this is the wrong question is because it doesn’t matter if you are unable to do the test at all, it matters if there is something wrong with you that would AFFECT YOUR ABILITY to perform the test at all. Because if it does, they need to know that and take that into account when assessing your ability to perform the test and thus your ultimate level of impairment. Think about it this way – if you have only one leg, that would be something that would prevent you from doing the Walk & Turn at all. (Obviously). But what I bet you didn’t know, however, is that the guidelines actually say that certain people are not supposed to ever do this test. People who are overweight or have had certain knee or back surgeries are not supposed to do this test. People taking certain medications. The problem here is that unless the officer knows a reason why you shouldn’t take the test, he is going to give it to you and you will fail, and he will arrest you. 9 times out of 10 the officer will never know about a condition or medication because he will not ask and you will not otherwise know to tell him.
6. The Walk & Turn is actually a “divided attention” test too. That’s right. Like I said before – even if you perform the actual walking and turning perfectly, if you start before you are told or do not pay attention to the instructions and take the wrong number of steps, you will fail.
7. Many things can affect your balance, and will, especially under the stress of a DUI investigation. We’ve all seen the Olympics and observed first hand how gymnasts under pressure choke and fall. Like I said above, in the stress of being pulled over and investigated, you will not be the most limber and focused. You will want to cooperate, but you will not be able to as much as you’d like to think. Plus, other things could interfere – like if you have an ear infection, for example. People with ear infections have problem with balance, and will not be able to perform the Walk & Turn successfully. Especially, late at night, in the rain, on the side of the highway, in front of flashing police cars, etc.
8. Shoes Matter. Oh boy do shoes matter! Imagine doing this funny little balance beam act wearing 4 inch stilettos. If the officer is nice enough to allow you to remove your shoes, barefoot on rough gravel isn’t much better, either. There could be glass in the road! And gentleman, this applies to you as well. How often do you go to the bar or out late to an event and wear nice dress shoes? Imagine how much harder wearing them would be while doing these silly balancing acts!
9. An abnormal way to “test” for “normal” behavior. How often do you walk down the street heel-to-toe in a straight line for 9 steps exactly, turn taking baby steps and walk 9 steps heel-to-toe back where you just came from? I’m guessing never. And what would you think if you were driving down the street and you saw people walking this way? YOU would probably think THEY were drunk! Sober people don’t walk like that, ever! So why are the police asking you to do it to find out if you are sober? Good question. I have absolutely no idea. It doesn’t make sense. Your ability to walk a straight line has nothing to do with your ability to successfully drive a car. Plus, sober people fail the Walk & Turn all the time – not being able to do it means you can’t do it, it doesn’t automatically mean you are drunk. My grandma can’t do it – she has fake knees and arthritis, but that doesn’t mean she is wasted all the time.
So basically, think twice before taking the “test.” And if you already have, contact an experienced DUI attorney in your state for help defending your case.