Walk and Turn

Suspected New Jersey DWI / DUI drivers are typically told to take a field sobriety test before being arrested. Field sobriety tests fall into one of two categories – standardized and non-standardized. The walk and turn test is one of three field sobriety tests standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Drivers hope they will “pass” the walk and turn test, but that is extremely unlikely. The ‘test’ is used solely to provide probable cause to make an arrest and to create evidence for a DWI / DUI prosecution. However, the walk and turn test can be effectively challenged. A skilled New Jersey DWI lawyer at Levow DWI Law can use the same test results to demonstrate that the driver was not impaired.

Field sobriety tests are divided-attention exercises that force the driver to concentrate on two tasks simultaneously. However, no matter how well the driver performs, the prosecutor will argue that the driver’s actions were proof of mental and physical impairment due to intoxication.

The walk and turn test is administered in two parts. The motorist is first told to stand with heel to toe and arms down while listening to the instructions. The officer will then instruct the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a real or imaginary line, turn back toward the officer, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back to the starting position. The officer will watch carefully for any signs that the driver is impaired.

The officer must administer the test according to strict NHTSA guidelines. If the officer fails to instruct according to the guidelines, then the reliability and validity of the testing is compromised.

There are eight signs of intoxication that police are trained to watch for during the performance of the walk and turn test: An inability to balance during instructions, starting the test too soon, inability to touch heel to toe, stepping off of the line, stopping while walking, using the arms to balance, loss of balance during the turn or inability to turn correctly, and taking the wrong number of steps.

If the officer notes two or more of these indications of intoxication, he or she will determine that the driver must have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater, and the motorist will be arrested on suspicion of NJ DWI / DUI. NHTSA states that there is a 68% chance of the driver being 0.08% or greater if two or more clues are present.

However, many of the “clues” that police watch for during the walk and turn test can be caused by physical conditions unrelated to alcohol use, such as injury or illness. To understand how this information can be incorporated into an effective defense strategy, it’s useful to understand how alcohol affects the human body.

Alcohol use causes both mental and physical impairment, but mental impairment always occurs first. If the driver demonstrates mental impairment but no physical problems, any difficulties performing a field sobriety test must have stemmed from a source other than alcohol intoxication.

The walk and turn test isn’t even recommended for certain drivers. This test shouldn’t be given to drivers with back or leg injuries, individuals 65 or older, or those with inner-ear disorders. Performing the test on uneven ground or while wearing shoes with heels higher than two inches also will negatively impact the driver’s performance.

Police don’t always administer the walk and turn test correctly or interpret the results the way they should. There are many effective challenges to the walk and turn test and other field sobriety tests. A New Jersey DWI attorney with a proven track record of defending drunk driving cases will challenge evidence of the driver’s performance on the walk and turn test and fight to minimize or even eliminate the consequences of a DWI / DUI arrest.

Evan Levow is an Instructor in the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, having been qualified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. All of the New Jersey DWI lawyers at Levow DWI Law have undergone the NHTSA / IACP SFST training. We underwent this training so that we will know these exercises as well as or better than an arresting officer. We use this information to evaluate our client’s case and determine the best defense strategy to assist the client.

Please call Levow DWI Law today at 877-593-1717 to discuss how the field sobriety exercises were administered to you. We will fight to protect your rights.