Walk-and-Turn Test

Walk-and-Turn Test

The walk and turn (WAT) test is a common field sobriety test used by law enforcement officers to determine whether a driver is impaired due to alcohol or other drugs. The WAT test is considered to be one of the most reliable and accurate field sobriety tests, and it is widely used by law enforcement agencies across the United States. In this article, we will explore the history, procedure, and controversies surrounding the WAT test.

Demonstration of the Walk and Turn Test

History of WAT Test

The WAT test was first developed in the 1970s as part of a study conducted by the Southern California Research Institute (SCRI) to evaluate the effectiveness of field sobriety tests in detecting alcohol impairment. The study involved the participation of more than 200 individuals who were tested under controlled conditions while sober, under the influence of alcohol, and under the influence of other drugs.

Based on the results of the study, the SCRI developed the WAT test as a standardized field sobriety test that could be used by law enforcement officers to detect alcohol impairment. The WAT test was included as one of the three standardized field sobriety tests recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1995.

Procedure of WAT Test

The WAT test involves two stages: the instruction stage and the walking stage. In the instruction stage, the officer explains the test to the driver and demonstrates the proper way to perform it. The driver is then asked to stand with their feet in a heel-to-toe position and their arms at their sides. The officer instructs the driver to maintain this position while listening to further instructions.

In the walking stage, the driver is asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn around on one foot, and take nine heel-to-toe steps back along the same line. The driver is instructed to count their steps out loud, keep their arms at their sides, and watch their feet at all times. The officer observes the driver for several signs of impairment, including whether the driver steps off the line, loses their balance, or uses their arms for balance.

If the officer observes two or more signs of impairment, this is considered a strong indication of impairment due to alcohol or other drugs. If the officer observes only one sign of impairment, this is considered a weaker indication of impairment.

Controversies Surrounding WAT Test

Despite its widespread use, the WAT test is not without controversy. Some critics argue that the test is not reliable or accurate, and that it can be influenced by factors such as the driver’s age, weight, or physical condition, as well as environmental factors such as the slope or condition of the walking surface.

In addition, some studies have suggested that the WAT test may be less accurate in detecting impairment due to drugs other than alcohol. For example, drivers who are impaired due to marijuana may perform well on the WAT test, even if they are significantly impaired.

Another controversy surrounding the WAT test is the question of whether drivers have the right to refuse to take the test. In many states, drivers are required to submit to a breathalyzer test if requested by a law enforcement officer. However, the rules surrounding the WAT test are less clear, and some drivers have argued that they should not be required to take the test if they believe they may incriminate themselves.

Critics of the WAT test have also raised concerns about the training and qualifications of law enforcement officers who administer the test. The NHTSA recommends that officers receive extensive training in the administration of the WAT test, but some critics argue that this training is inadequate or that officers may not be able to accurately assess the results of the test in real-world situations.


The walk and turn test is a common field sobriety test used by law enforcement officers to detect alcohol or drug impairment in drivers. Despite its widespread use, the test has been subject to criticism and controversy due to its reliability, accuracy, and potential for misuse.

Despite these criticisms, the WAT test remains a widely used field sobriety test, and it is likely to remain a key tool in the detection of alcohol and drug impairment in drivers. As such, it is important for law enforcement agencies and officers to receive appropriate training in the administration of the test, as well as for drivers to be aware of their rights and the potential limitations of the test.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the WAT test and other field sobriety tests in detecting alcohol and drug impairment will depend on a variety of factors, including the training and qualifications of law enforcement officers, the specific circumstances of each individual case, and the ongoing development and refinement of testing methods and technologies. As such, it is likely that the debate surrounding the effectiveness and accuracy of field sobriety tests will continue for years to come.