Police officers in New York and around the country ask motorists to take field sobriety tests when they observe signs of impairment but lack the probable cause they need to make an arrest. In the late 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted research on these tests, and the result was what is now called the standardized field sobriety test. The test is now used by police departments all over the country, and each of its three parts is designed to identify drug or alcohol impairment. The walk-and-turn test is one of these three parts.
Listening to instructions
The walk-and-turn test is the second part of the driving while intoxicated (DWI) standardized field sobriety test, and police conduct it in two stages. During the first stage, the motorists stand still with one foot in front of the other and their arms at their sides. Once the motorist has adopted this position, the officer tells them how to complete the test. Maintaining this position requires balance and coordination, and motorists fail this part of the walk-and-turn test if they stumble, sway or throw their arms out to avoid falling.
The walk-and-turn test
During the second part of the walk-and-turn test, the motorist takes nine heel-to-toe steps following an imaginary line. They then turn and take nine heel-to-toe steps back to the starting point. Motorists fail the test and face DWI charges if officers observe two or more indications of intoxication. Things officers look out for include beginning the test too soon, failing to follow the imaginary line, taking fewer or more than nine steps in either direction or stumbling or falling during the turn. According to NHTSA, the walk-and-turn test is a reliable indicator of impairment about 66% of the time.
Consenting to a field sobriety test
New York is an implied consent state, which means motorists arrested on DWI charges are required to provide breath or blood samples for toxicology testing. If they refuse, their driving licenses are suspended for a year, and they are fined $500. However, the implied consent law does not extend to field sobriety tests, which means motorists can refuse to take part without fear of losing their driving privileges.
Remember, if the police pull you over for a possible DWI in New York, you do not have to take the field sobriety tests. Know your rights!