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Walk-and-Turn Test in California DUIs

The walk-and-turn (WAT) test is one of three standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) used by police when investigating whether a driver may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These tests were created after research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

What is the walk-and-turn test?

The WAT test involves a person walking heel to toe, single file, along a straight line. The individual is supposed to take nine steps, then turn around on one foot, and repeat nine steps in the opposite direction. For this reason, the test is also called the nine-step walk and turn, or the walk-the-line test.

What are the police looking for?

Many people think that the police are only watching to see whether a person loses their balance as evidence that they are intoxicated. However, the test is in part, a vehicle to observe the suspect. Police are trained to look for eight signs of impairment.

  1. Unable to keep their balance while listening to instructions.
  2. Starts the activity before they have all the instructions.
  3. Stops walking before taking nine steps.
  4. Does not walk heel to toe.
  5. Takes the incorrect number of steps.
  6. Do not properly turn around;
  7. Steps off the line.
  8. Uses their arms to regain balance.

According to the NHTSA, the WAT test is a “divided attention” test that requires a person to listen to instructions and follow the directions. Most unimpaired people can complete these tasks accurately, but impaired drivers often have problems simultaneously completing the physical test while making sure they follow the directions. However, other factors such as age, weight, medical issues, nervousness, lighting, and traffic condition can affect your ability to do the test.

Passing the test

Law enforcement officers do actually score the WAT test. They are trained to score points based on if the suspect fails the test in any of the above-observed signs of impairment. If a suspect scores two or more points, they are classified as being under the influence, with a classified BAC of 0.10 percent (above the legal limit in California).

How police are trained

As a result of the SFSTs developed through research sponsored by the NHTSA, formal training was introduced to teach police how to more adeptly detect impaired drivers. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) handles the administration and accreditation of training programs.

Because this training is so specific to observing suspected drunk drivers, some attorneys specializing in DUI defense have taken these same training courses in order to place themselves in a better position to question, cross-examine, and analyze a police officer's SFST findings.

What happens if the police officer gives the wrong directions?

Even though officers are trained in the administration of standardized tests, many of these officers conduct hundreds of SFSTs. As a result, they may not always give the standardized instructions. Additionally, if they suspect a person to be intoxicated, they may not accurately observe the individual completing the test. When an officer has not properly instructed a suspect or has not properly observed the test, this information can be utilized by a skilled DUI defense attorney.

Do I have to do the walk-and-turn test?

You can refuse to take the WAT test, as well as all SFSTs. This does not mean that you will not be arrested. The SFSTs are used as investigative tools to give an officer evidence of impaired driving. If you refuse the test but the officer still believes you are impaired, you will likely be arrested and taken to the police station where they will conduct a chemical test to show your BAC.

Limitations to physically complete the test

Most people are physically able to complete the WAT test. However for some people with certain medical or physical limitations, taking part in the WAT test can be difficult, painful, or impossible.

If you are stopped and questioned by police, like most people, you will feel nervous and frightened. Anxiety and nervousness can physically manifest in the body as weakness, faintness, shaking, or other characteristics. An officer may observe these reactions as evidence of alcohol or drug use, even if the driver is completely sober.

Obesity can physically limit one's movement and ability to easily balance on one foot while maneuvering heel to toe. Similarly, any physical condition affecting balance, such as back pain, ear problems, or advanced age. Even footwear can make it more difficult to easily complete the WAT test.

Experienced East Bay DUI Attorney Representation

East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local drunk driving and DUI laws and how police gather evidence during traffic stops. With over 30 years of DUI experience, Lynn Gorelick understands the law and the science required to fight driving under the influence, and other alcohol charges. Contact our offices today to fight your DUI charges.

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