Field Sobriety Tests in Washington: Taking the Walk and Turn, Heel to Toe Test

The Walk and Turn, Heel toe test one of the most common SFST’s administered in Washington State. A person will first listen to instructions, then walk in a straight line to show divided attention between mental tasks and physical tasks. The mental tasks include comprehension of verbal instructions, processing of information, and recall of memory. The physical tasks include balance and coordination while standing still, walking, and turning. The test is administered in two stages, the instruction phase and the walking phase. Both are required.

During the instruction phase, the officer will instruct the individual not to start walking until told to do so and to stand erect with their right foot in front of their left.

The officer will have the individual balance in this position while he continues to give them the rest of the instructions. Because this initial position is not a stance that people normally will take of his or her own choosing, attention is divided between balancing in this position while at the same time listening carefully to the instructions. However, people will often immediately jump into performing the test instead of waiting to begin until instructed. This is a clue.

The officer will instruct the individual, to walk in a straight-line. They are to look down at their feet as they walk, keeping heel to toe, arms down at their side, nine steps. On the ninth step they are suppose to stop, take a series of small steps turning, but while keeping their foot planted and go back nine more steps.After giving the instructions, the officer should demonstrate three steps, ask the individual if they understand the instructions and then instruct them to perform the test. The test is designed so that an individual cannot concentrate their full attention on maintaining the stance. Rather, they have to divide their attention between balancing and having to listen and comprehend the officer’s instructions.

During the test phase, the officer will look for “clues.” These are indicators that an officer will use to characterize a individuals performance. These clues include, missing heel to toe, taking stutter steps, or stepping off the line, raising their arms, number of steps taken, and whether the officer had to repeat the instructions.

Proper administration of the test requires a designated straight line, and a reasonably dry, hard, level, non-slippery surface. Prior to administering the test police officers must ask the subject if they have any physical problems or disabilities. Moreover, the officer must limit their movement during the test so as not to distract the test taker.

According to NHTSA, “research indicates that 68 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.10 or greater.” However, the origin of the 68 percent figure is unclear and no medical or scientific evidence has been offered to support it.

Field sobriety tests are voluntary. If you have been arrested for DUI or are facing other similar charges, please contact Blair & Kim, PLLC today to see how a criminal defense attorney might be able to help you.


*Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Admin., DWI Detection And Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, Student Manual, VIII-11 (2006).

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