The walk and turn (WAT) test is one of the three standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs) that Nevada police ask you to perform if they suspect you of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. WAT is meant to test your physical agility and coordination, and the police are looking to see if you make any mistakes – called “clues.”
If you show two or more “clues” during the WAT, the police may believe there is probable cause to arrest you for DUI even though the WAT is a very unreliable way to test for alcohol or drug impairment.
What do I have to do for the walk and turn test?
The walk and turn (WAT) test requires you to
- take nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line while counting the steps aloud,
- pivot 180 degrees around with one foot on the ground, and
- take nine more heel-to-toe steps in a straight line while counting the steps aloud.
Meanwhile, the police officer is looking out for these eight “clues” that you may be intoxicated:
- You lose balance while the officer is giving you the instructions.
- You begin to walk before the officer finishes the instructions.
- You pause during the walk. (It is okay to walk slowly.)
- You do not walk heel-to-toe.
- You step out of line.
- You use your arms to balance.
- You lose balance while doing the turn.
- You take the incorrect number of steps.
A failing WAT score is showing two or more clues.1
How reliable is the walk and turn test?
The walk and turn (WAT) test is very unreliable. In fact, it has been estimated that the WAT is an accurate way to detect intoxication only two out of three times.2
Truthfully, the WAT is difficult for sober people to do. There are various reasons that have nothing to do with alcohol or drugs that could cause you to fail the WAT, such as:
- The ground is not flat
- Your shoes are uncomfortable
- You have a medical condition that makes it difficult to balance
- You are nervous
- You are tired
- You are ill
- The officer gave unclear instructions
- It is rainy or windy
- The sun is in your eye
- Your clothes are uncomfortable
- It is too dark out
- Traffic lights and police sirens keep distracting you
- The law enforcement officer(s) observing you scored you wrong
Fortunately, the WAT is usually recorded on the police’s dashcam or bodycam. Criminal defense attorneys would study this footage in the hopes it shows that external forces that had nothing to do with alcohol or drugs caused your failing test results.
What are the other field sobriety tests?
The other two standardized field sobriety tests in addition to the walk and turn are the:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (HGN), and the
- One-Leg Stand test (OLS).
The HGN test is where you follow the police’s finger or penlight with your eyes as they wave it in front of your face. If your eye shows involuntary jerking during this process, it could be a sign of intoxication.
The OLS is where you stand on one foot and count one-one thousand, etc. up to 30 aloud without using arms for balance. Alleged “clues” of intoxication are if you
- put your foot down, or
- use your arms to balance.3
Does failing the walk and turn always lead to a DUI arrest?
Usually yes, though police look at a lot of factors in order to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest you for drunk driving or drugged driving. These include:
- How long you took to pull over
- Your demeanor while talking to the police
- Whether you smell of alcohol or marijuana
- If your eyes are glassy
- Whether the police see any alcohol or drugs in the car
- If you have any trouble retrieving your license and registration to show the police
- If you admit to drinking or taking drugs
- If you fail the preliminary breath test (which measures your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) but does not measure drug levels)
- If you refuse to take the preliminary breath test
- Your scores on the field sobriety tests
Can I win my DUI case?
It is very possible. There are many Nevada DUI defenses that could get your charges lowered or dropped altogether. Five include:
- The police lacked probable cause to make the traffic stop.
- You had a medical condition that mimicked being intoxicated, such as diabetic ketoacidosis.
- The breathalyzer was defective.
- The blood test samples were contaminated.
- The police gave incorrect FST instructions.4
In every case, DUI lawyers comb through all the evidence in search of weak links in the state’s case and instances where the police made mistakes. If we can show that reasonable doubt exists as to your guilt, the D.A. may be left with no choice but to dismiss the case.
Arrested on a suspected DUI in Nevada? Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers to discuss how we may be able to get your DUI charge reduced to reckless driving or dismissed while saving your driver’s license.
Our Las Vegas DUI/DWI law firm fights misdemeanor and felony cases throughout the state.
- NHTSA Student Manual at VIII/4, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Note that standardized field sobriety tests are also abbreviated SFSTs.
- Jack Stuster, Jack, and Marcelline Burns, Validation of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test Battery at BACs below 0.10 Percent, NHTSA (August 1, 1998).
- See note 1.
- See also: Johnson v. State (1995) ; Weaver v. State (2005) .