We all know the walk and turn test. Walk in a straight line, turn around, and do it again, how hard can it be? Well, nobody walks with their heels to their toes, and being asked to perform a feat of balance in a high pressure situation (while the cop that pulled you over waits to arrest you) doesn’t exactly put the odds in your favor regardless of what you’ve had to drink. 

How does the walk and turn (WAT) test work? Is there a trick to passing it, and does failing actually prove anything about your sobriety, or lack thereof? Standardized field sobriety tests are made with your failing them in mind. If you’ve been arrested for DWI in Texas, whether you passed or failed your standardized sobriety test, you need the best lawyer you can possibly find to protect your freedom. Call Thiessen Law Firm at (713) 864-9000 to begin building your defense today. 

How does the walk and turn test work?

The walk and turn test is one of many standardized sobriety tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the 1970s but is one of the few that has yet to fall out of use. Is it as simple as walking in a line and then walking back? The instructions for the test are as follows:

  1. Place your feet on the line with feet in a heel-to-toe position with your left foot in front of your right foot and your arms at your sides.

The officer will then demonstrate the position while he finishes giving instructions.

  1. Do not begin before you are instructed to.
  2. When instructed to begin, take nine steps with your feet heel-to-toe on the line.
  3. On the ninth step, turn around using a small series of steps
  4. Return on the line taking nine more steps with your feet heel-to-toe.

Keep in mind that you must: 

  1. Count each of these steps out loud and look at your feet while walking.
  2. You may not raise your arms from your side or stop once you have begun. 
  3. You must agree that you understand these instructions before beginning. 

As you can see, although “walk in a straight line and then do it again” may seem simple, it is anything but that. If you fail to follow instructions or otherwise make a mistake on the test, the arresting officer will document it as a “clue,” and if too many clues are observed you will fail the test. How is the walk and turn test scored?

What are the 8 clues in the walk and turn test?

Misunderstand the (incredibly complicated and unrealistic) instructions, get marked down for the following clues, and you might fail the test. So, what are the clues exactly? The 8 walk and turn clues officers watch for include if the suspect:

  1. Can’t balance while being read instructions
  2. Starts walking too soon
  3. Stops walking for any reason
  4. Misses their heel touching their toe by more than half an inch
  5. Raises their arms more than six inches for balance
  6. Makes an improper turn
  7. Takes more or less than nine steps
  8. Steps off of the line

How many clues do you need to fail the walk and turn test? This question at least has a simple answer. Just two clues and you fail. We don’t know about you, but we think starting a second too early or raising your arms a bit too high doesn’t sound like something that should send you to jail. 

You most likely already assumed this, but the test is bogus. Here are some more reasons why.

Problems with the walk and turn test

Are field sobriety tests accurate? It’s a question that we get often. The main problem with sobriety tests is that they aren’t designed to be accurate, they are designed to make it easier to put you in jail. Each sobriety test has unique problems that all stem from not being developed for accuracy, or by scientists, and being put together to make more arrests. Like the one leg stand test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test is pretty unfair because: 

  • Much of the population is overweight, and this has an effect on a person’s ability to balance
  • Back injuries, neck injuries, and leg injuries can make it difficult to walk and balance
  • Nervousness, inexperience, lack of coordination, and language barriers can all affect the results, and it is up to the arresting officer is to determine whether or not these factors are in play
  • Nobody is given a practice run
  • These tests are administered in environments non-conducive to focus and prone to interfering variables, like busy roadsides
  • Police are trained to conduct these tests by other police officers, not doctors or scientists

None of these problems will dissuade a police officer from arresting you for suspicion of DWI. The only person who can argue that these problems with the WAT test interfered with the conclusion of the arresting officer is your lawyer. 

Continue reading: Can you refuse a sobriety test?

Couldn’t leg out your walk and turn test? Let Thiessen Law Firm help.

If you failed your walk and turn test and were then arrested on suspicion of DWI, your story could be far from over. The tests that were used to arrest you, and the same ones they will try to use to charge you, are founded on bad faith and bad science. 

Even the NHTSA admits that if the WAT test is administered to their exact specifications, the accuracy rate is only around 60%. It’s a wonder that these tests are still used for anything, much less to convict a person of a crime they may not have committed. Still, in order to challenge the results of a sobriety test of any kind, you’ll need a lawyer who knows their stuff.

Mark Thiessen of Thiessen Law Firm is a DWI expert as well as an ACS-CHAL Lawyer Scientist. If anyone is qualified to call into question the intersection of DWI science and law, it’s him. Call Thiessen Law Firm today at (713) 864-9000 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.