Field Sobriety Tests and Columbus DUI/OVI Stops

The Walk and Turn Test is the second of the three field sobriety tests often administered by police officers during OVI / DUI traffic stops. The Walk and Turn Test is classified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) as a psychophysical field sobriety test. Psychophysical field sobriety tests are used by police to assess an individual’s mental and physical impairment.

This psychophysical test is a divided attention test. The Walk and Turn Test requires an individual to concentrate on two things at once: comprehending instructions and performing the physical test. Police officers are trained under the NHTSA manual that the act of driving a vehicle requires that an individual divide his/her attention among multiple tasks.

The instructions for the Walk and Turn Test require that an individual begin by standing in a position where their left foot is placed on an imaginary straight line (at the direction of the police officer), with their right foot directly in front of their left foot touching heel to toe. The individual is then required to take nine heel-to-toe steps down the imaginary line, pivot on their front foot, and then take nine heel-to-toe steps back down the imaginary line. While performing the test, the individual is required to look down at their feet and keep their arms at their side while walking.

Police officers are trained under the NHTSA Manual to look for the presence of eight particular clues of impairment:

1. Cannot Keep Balance While Listening to Instructions

The NHTSA manual requires that police officers are to instruct individuals to place their left foot on an imaginary line and place their right foot directly in front of their left foot touching heel-to-toe. The individual is to then hold that position until the instructions are complete. There are two tasks that are required at the beginning of the Walk and Turn Test. The individual must maintain their balance on the line and listen to instructions. If the individual does not maintain the heel-to-toe position throughout the instructions (feet must actually break apart), police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

2. Starts Before the Instructions are Finished

The NHTSA manual requires that police officers are to instruct individuals that they are not to begin performing the test until the instructions are complete. If an individual begins walking or performing the test prior to the conclusion of the instructions, police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

3. Stops While Walking

The NHTSA manual requires that police officers are to instruct individuals that they are not to stop walking or to stop performing the test once they begin. If an individual stops walking or stops performing the test, police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

4. Does Not Touch Heel-to-Toe

The NHTSA manual requires that police officers are to instruct individuals that they are to touch heel to toe on each of the nine steps down the line and each of the nine steps back. If an individual leaves a space of more than one-half inch between the heel and toe on any step, police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

5. Steps Off the Line

The NHTSA manual requires that police officers are to instruct individuals that they are to take heel-to-toe steps down an imaginary line and heel-to-toe steps back the imaginary line. If the individual steps entirely off the imaginary straight line with one foot on any one occasion, police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

6. Uses Arms to Balance

The NHTSA manual requires that police officers are to instruct individuals that they are to keep their arms at their sides during the entire performance of the test. If the individual raises his/her arms more than six inches from their sides during the performance of the test, police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

7. Improper Turn

The NHTSA manual requires that police officers are to instruct individuals that, after they take nine heel-to-toe steps down the line, they are to keep their front foot on the imaginary line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot. The officer then demonstrates the turn for the individual. If the individual removes their front foot from the line while turning or makes an incorrect turn (i.e. spins or pivots around), police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

8. Incorrect Number of Steps

If the individual takes more than or fewer than nine steps in either direction, police officers record this as a clue of impairment.

The NHTSA manual trains police officers that if an individual exhibits two or more clues on the Walk and Turn Test or fails to complete the test, they can be classified accurately 68 percent of the time as having a blood alcohol content above .10 percent of one gram or more by weight of alcohol per 210 liters of the person’s breath.

The instruction phase of the Walk and Turn Test can be incredibly difficult for many individuals to comprehend and even more difficult to perform. This is especially true when field sobriety tests are given in inclement weather, under poor lighting conditions and when several police officers are at the scene watching. This is an incredibly intimidating and scary for feeling for an individual to have to perform a field sobriety test under such circumstances. In addition, police officers have both performed and administered field sobriety tests, such as the Walk and Turn Test, many times in their careers. For most individuals arrested for an OVI / DUI offense, this is the first time that they have ever had to perform field sobriety tests.

Police officers frequently fail to administer field sobriety tests in accordance with the NHTSA Manual instructions. When police officers fail to administer field sobriety tests, such as the Walk and Turn Test, properly, the validity of the test is compromised!

Defense attorney Michael Probst has handled hundreds of OVI / DUI cases and has significant experience reviewing video and audio evidence of the administration of Walk and Turn Tests by police officers during traffic stops and challenging the administration of Walk and Turn Tests at suppression hearings. A thorough and exhaustive defense of the administration of the Walk and Turn Test from an experienced DUI attorney is crucial to every OVI / DUI case.