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Walk and Turn Test

What are SFST's? The Walk and Turn Dexterity Test

Alcohol is referred to as an CNS Central Nervous System Depressant.

Depressants slow down your body’s central nervous system, adversely affecting things like balance and the ability to focus.

Police rely on what are referred to as SFST’s or Standardized Field Sobriety Tests to determine whether alcohol or other substances have appreciably impaired your mental or physical faculties, to an appreciable extent, to operate a motor vehicle.

One of the three primary SFST’s law enforcement in North Carolina use is the “Walk and Turn” or “Heel to Toe” Test.

The walk-and-turn test is standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because they believe it can be a reliable way for law enforcement officers to determine if a person is intoxicated. However, there are many things that can go wrong during the walk and turn that can affect your test results.

For starters, the police officer has to make sure you are an appropriate candidate for this test. People who are over 65 years old, overweight by more than 50 pounds or those who have physical handicaps should not to perform this test. If you can take this physical test, the officer should first demonstrate it for you so that you know what to do. He or she should also ensure that you perform the test on a flat, dry surface during reasonable weather conditions in a safe environment (away from traffic).

During the test, you will be asked to follow a line (either the white line on the shoulder of the road or an “imaginary” line if none exists). You are then supposed to walk nine steps heel to toe. Once you've counted out loud to the ninth step, you are requested to pivot and return in the same manner, heel to toe. You cannot use your arms for balance and if the officer notices you swaying, stumbling, missing a step or forgetting to count out loud, this can cause you to fail the test.

Walk and Turn (Sometimes called the “Heel to Toe” test)
  • Instruction stage – Left foot on line, right foot directly in front of left foot with heel touching toe
  • Do not move from this position until told to do so
  • Do you understand?
  • Walking Stage – When told to begin, take nine steps heel touching toe, when you reach your ninth step, leave your lead foot on the line and turn making a series of small steps, and then return nine steps heel to toe. While you are doing this, keep your hands at your side, watch your feet at all times, count out loud and don't stop until you have completed the test.
  • Do you understand these directions?
  • Must miss heel to toe by ½” or more
  • Must raise one or more hands 6″ or more
  • There can be no more than 8 clues. Each clue may be observed multiple times, yet still count only as one “clue”
  • NHTSA “original research indicated that individuals over 65 years of age had difficulty performing this test.” Persons with back, leg or inner ear problems may have difficulty.
  • 2″ or greater heels should be removed
Walk and Turn “Clues” or “Cues”
  1. Can't balance during instructions
  2. Starts too soon
  3. Stops
  4. Misses heel to toe by ½” or more
  5. Steps off line
  6. Uses arms for balance
  7. Turns incorrectly
  8. Wrong number of steps


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Modified Transcript of “Walk and Turn DWI DUI Dexterity Tests in North Carolina” for the Hearing Impaired

ImpairedHey there. My name is Bill Powers, and you are likely looking in our section on our webpage regarding driving while impaired.

Sometimes people refer to that as DWI or DUI. DUI is the older nomenclature. It tended to refer more to driving under the influence, whereas driving while impaired can be any impairing substance, both legal and illegal substances, prescription medications, marijuana, alcohol, Xanax, combination thereof.

This video is asking a question about the walk and turn test. We sometimes refer to this as the hell to toe. I didn’t come up with these tests. They are tests that are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

I refer to that as NHTSA.

This is promulgated by a series of studies over the years of different, we call them field sobriety tests. We used to refer to them as psycho physical tests, because there’s a psychological and a physical component of them. SFSTs, so standardized field sobriety tests. I probably said that wrong, standardized field sobriety tests, SFSTs, and my apologies.

There are three main ones that we’re looking that we see a lot in court. This is one of them, so we see the horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is the eye test, where we’re looking for a jerking of the eyes or an involuntary neuromuscular reaction. There’s the one leg stand, where there’s balancing, and then there’s the heel to toe.

The walk and turn test is one of the more lengthy tests. It’s one of the more complex tests.

It’s one of the tests that has the most clues or cues, whatever you want to call them, it doesn’t matter to me, where you stand with your right foot in front of your left foot. The protocols are set forth very specifically based on the studies, and if you want to see these things, we have this online. If you go to SlideShare and look the North Carolina DWI quick reference guide. We got a new one that just came out a few months ago in 2017. You’ll see all the dexterity tests. It’s in a section of that book called NHTSA test. We, also, provide a copy free of charge to lawyers, law enforcement, judges, legal professionals that want to know more about standardized field sobriety testing.

The test is broken up into different segments. There are eight clues. The first part or first segment is what I call the prompt, or ready, or instructional phase or stage, where you put your right foot in front of your left, and you listen to the police officer tell you what to do. What they’re looking for is to see if you break the position, if you lose your balance, or you start too soon, two clues. If you’re balancing there or you break your leg position, that’s technically a clue.

Sometimes people do that while you’re standing there watching the police officer walk back and forth. The normal indication is maybe cross your arms and just separate yourself, and you forget, “Oh, I’m supposed to be standing there like this.”

The reason we call them psycho physical, as I said, is there’s a psychological component, do you remember the instruction from the police officer, and are you able to balance and stand there? Are you putting your right foot in front of your left, or the wrong way around? Are you bobbling, and while that may not be a specific clue, what we’re looking for is that are you able to do this?

The next set, the next six clues, involve things like the line. Sometimes there’s a line. Sometimes there’s not. Sometimes in intox rooms, they actually have a piece of tape on the floor. When I first started practicing law, it seemed like was just the standard protocol. Now you hear a lot of imaginary lines. I’m not saying it’s not in the training. I just don’t understand it, but how do you step off an imaginary line? How thick is it, because it’s set forth a certain amount, this separation in your feet, but generally speaking, you’re looking for a clear separation. There are some specifics. That’s why we have the book. We’re, also, looking for a number of steps, where you touch heel to toe or you come pretty darn close to heel to toe. We’re looking to see if you use your arms for balance. We’re looking to see if you stopped in the middle of the test. We’re looking to see if you do the turn incorrectly, in the wrong direction or wrong manner.

You have a series of opportunities to mess up. Nine steps down, nine steps back. I didn’t make up these rules. That’s how they come. That’s how NHTSA does these, and the police officers and law enforcement officers are supposed to follow them. That way, there’s a consistency in the application. It’s a lot grading the algebra test. I mean everyone has to do the same problem and be graded in the same way in order to get a fair grade.

How many times do you not touch heel to toe? That’s one clue. It doesn’t matter if you do it 18 times. How many times do you step off the line? How did you do the turn? How did you explain the turn? What direction did you turn? Sometimes police officers say don’t do a pivot style turn, keep your foot on the line, and take a series of small steps around.

It’s not as black and white or cut and dry. There are a series of circumstances that you need to take into consideration, the conditions, what type of shoes you’re wearing, any knee, back or balance problems. I would not just assume that you nailed the test, nor would I assume you failed a test, as I like to say.

On the walk and turn test, more willing to provide you more information. As you probably can tell, it can be a bit complicated, and we offer a free, confidential consultation, and I can’t think of another case we see these other than driving while impaired, or at least investigation of driving while impaired in North Carolina.

Thanks for checking our website. We got a lot more materials, and check out these different tests we have online available for your review. Talk to you soon.

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