The Walk and Turn (WAT) is one of three Nevada field sobriety tests that DUI suspects may perform in attempt to demonstrate whether they are under the influence of alcohol. The WAT test requires the suspect to walk back and forth in a straight line. Depending on results of the WAT and other field sobriety tests, the police may decide to arrest the suspect for DUI.
In this piece our Las Vegas DUI Defense attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about the Walk and Turn Test in Nevada drunk driving cases. (Click on a question below to go directly to that topic.)
- What is the WAT Test in Nevada DUI cases?
- When do police administer the WAT Test in Nevada DUI cases?
- How do police administer the WAT Test in Nevada DUI cases?
- How are results measured for the WAT Test in Nevada DUI cases? What is failing?
- Can I refuse to take the WAT Test in a Nevada DUI case?
- Does passing or not taking the WAT Test mean I will not get arrested for DUI in Nevada?
- How accurate is the WAT Test in Nevada DUI cases?
- How do DUI defendants contest the results of the WAT Test in Nevada?
- Does Nevada law recognize WAT Tests in Nevada DUI cases?
- Is the WAT Test the only field sobriety test in Nevada DUI cases?
The Walk and Turn (WAT) is a field sobriety test that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes as an accurate indicator of a driver's sobriety levels. People suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol in Nevada are asked by police to carry out the WAT. The WAT is also called the DUI straight line test, nine step walk turn, nine-step test, or DUI walk the line test.
The WAT is a "divided attention" test because the DUI suspect has to listen, remember, and perform physically at the same time. Specifically, the WAT requires the suspect to take nine "heel-to-toe" steps in a straight line, turn around on one foot, and take nine more heel-to-toe steps in a straight line." If the suspect stumbles too much or fails to follow the instructions, the police may take it as evidence that he/she is too drunk to drive in Nevada.1
Probably within 10 to 30 minutes of the initial traffic stop. First the cop will ask the suspect some questions, and based on their interaction the cop can choose to administer the field sobriety tests.
First the cop has to find a reasonably level and dry surface that has a straight line on it; cops typically choose a portion of the road and use the traffic lines. If there is no straight line on the ground, the cop may draw one with chalk or perform the the test right next to a straight curb.
Then the cop delivers the WAT instructions while demonstrating the test for the suspect to copy afterwards. The instructions go as follows:
- "Place your left foot on the line."
- "Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with heel of right foot against toe of left foot."
- "Place arms down at your sides."
- "Maintain this position until I have completed the instructions. Do not start to walk until told to do so."
- "Do you understand the instructions so far?"
- "When I tell you to start, take nine heel-to-toe steps, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back."
- "When you turn, keep the front foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot."
- "While you are walking, keep your arms at your sides, watch your feet at all times, and count your steps out loud."
- "Once you start walking, don't stop until you have completed the test."
- "Do you understand the instructions?"
- "Begin, and count your first step from the heel-to-toe position as 'one'."
Then as the suspect performs the WAT, the cop is supposed to watch and listen carefully for any mistakes.2
When Nevada DUI suspects are performing the WAT, the police are looking out for eight clues of alcohol impairment (abbreviated "clues"). A failing score is when the suspect commits two or more of these clues, which are:
- Failing to maintain balance during the instructions
- Beginning the walk before the officer finishes the instructions
- Pausing during the walk (walking slowly is okay)
- Taking steps that are not heel-to-toe
- Stepping off the straight line
- Using arms for balance
- Turning incorrectly (such as lifting the pivot foot off the floor)
- Taking more or less than nine steps
Therefore, scoring zero or one clue is a passing score. But showing two, three, four, five, six, seven, or eight scores is a failing score and indicates to the cop that the suspect is under the influence of alcohol. Note that repeat mistakes of the same "clue" are usually scored only once; for example, stepping off the straight line more than once still counts as only one clue.
Yes, it is not mandatory for DUI suspects to take field sobriety tests in Nevada. The downside of not taking the WAT is that law enforcement will almost certainly arrest the suspect anyway. But the upside is that the prosecution will not have any failing WAT results as evidence of the suspect's intoxication levels. That may make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
6) Does passing or not taking the Walk-and-Turn Test mean I will not get arrested for DUI in Nevada?
No. Nevada police consider many factors in addition to WAT results when determining whether to place a DUI suspect under arrest. Other considerations include:
- whether the smell of alcohol is emanating from the DUI suspect
- the DUI suspect's appearance and demeanor (slurred speech, glassy eyes, etc.)
- whether the DUI suspect failed the horizontal gaze nystagmus and one leg stand tests
- preliminary breath test results
In short, a suspect who passes the WAT still faces a Nevada DUI arrest if other indicators exist that suggest he/she is under the influence.
Only 68% accurate. Therefore nearly one out of three people who take the WAT will fail even though he/she has a legal blood alcohol content.
WAT results can be inaccurate for a variety of reasons, including:
- The walking surface was too soft, wet, or slippery.
- The suspect was too old, obese, ill, or otherwise mentally or physically disabled to perform the tests.
- External stimuli such as flashing lights, traffic, or movements by the officer (who is supposed to remain still) impeded the suspect's ability to perform.
- The suspect's shoes or clothes were too constricting, and the officer did not give the suspect the opportunity to take off the shoes.
- The officer did not find or provide a straight line for the suspect to walk on.
- There was inadequate lighting.
Therefore, factors that have nothing to do with alcohol levels may prohibit perfectly sober people from performing the WAT. If a defense attorney can show the court that circumstances beyond the defendant's control precluded passing WAT results, the prosecutor may be more inclined to dismiss or reduce the charge.
No. The WAT is one of a total of three (3) standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs) that police officers administer on suspected drunk drivers. The other two FSTs are the Nevada horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the Nevada one leg stand test. The horizontal gaze nystagmus is the most accurate FST, and the one leg stand is the least accurate FST..
No matter what, a DUI arrest is only the beginning of a criminal case in Nevada. Irrespective of the FST results, it may be possible to avoid a jail sentence and/or a DUI conviction through a plea bargain.
Charged with DUI? Call an attorney...
Have you been arrested for "drunk driving" in Nevada? Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys for a FREE consultation at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). We might be able to get the DUI charge dropped down or thrown out.
For information about California walk and turn laws, see our article about California walk and turn laws.
3 See Weaver v. State, Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 121 Nev. 494 (2005).