Both the Walk and Turn (W&T) and One Leg Stand (OLS) tests are considered, “divided attention” tests. In both tests, the officer is determining how well a subject can multitask (mentally focus on multiple tasks or ideas at once). We will see there are two stages: an instruction stage and a performance stage. For this article, we will discuss the W&T test.

Test Conditions

  Officers are trained that, whenever possible, the W& T test should be conducted on a reasonably dry, hard, level, non slippery surface. Also, there should be enough space for subjects to complete nine heel-to-toe steps.

The original SCRI studies suggested that individuals over 65 years of age or people with back, leg or inner ear problems had difficulty performing this test. Therefore, it is crucial that officers ask subjects questions relating to the existence of physical conditions or disabilities prior to administering the test.

Also, the SCRI studies suggest that individuals wearing heels more than 2 inches high should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes. This applies to subjects with any form of any unusual footwear (i.e., flip flops, platform shoes, etc.)

Test Procedures

First we have the instruction stage. For standardized performance of this test, officers are trained to have the subject assume the heel-to-toe stance by giving the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

  • “Place your left foot on the line” (real or imaginary 10-12 foot straight line). Officer demonstrates placement of left foot.
  • “Place your right foot on the line ahead of the left foot, with the heel of your right foot against the toe of the left foot.” Officer demonstrates placement of both feet.
  • Place your arms down at your sides.”  Officer demonstrates placement of arms at 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?” (Officer trained to ensure subject indicates understanding before continuing.)

Once locked in this position, the officer may start counting clues of impairment against you. There are two clues officers look for in the instruction stage: (1) subject is unable to maintain balance; and (2) subject starts test too soon.

  1. Cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions. Subject must balance heel-to-toe on the line, and at the same time, listen carefully to the instructions. Typically, the person who is impaired can do only one of these things. The subject may listen to the instructions, but not keep balance. This clue is recorded if the subject does not maintain the heel-to-toe position throughout the instructions. (Feet must actually break apart or step off the line.) This clue is not recorded if the subject sways or uses the arms to balance but maintains the heel-to-toe position.
  2. Starts too soon. The impaired person may maintain balance, but is unable to listen to the instructions. Since the officer specifically instructed the subject not to start walking “until I tell you to begin,” a clue is recorded if the subject does not wait. It is important to note that this clue can’t be recorded unless subject was told not to start walking until directed to do so. Each of these clues can only be counted once.

Next, the officer is trained to explain the test accompanied by further demonstrations:

  • “When I tell you to start, take nine heel-to-toe steps on the line, turn, and take nine heel-to-toe steps down the line.” Demonstrate a minimum of three heel-to-toe steps.
  • “When you turn, keep the front (lead) foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps with the other foot, like this.” Demonstrate the turn and a minimum of three heel-to-toe return steps
  • “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?” (Officer trained to ensure subject understands.)
  • “Begin the test.”

Now that the officer has explained and demonstrated the
test, it is time for the performance stage where the officer will interpret

Test Interpretation

There are six clues the officer looks for during the performance stage: (1) stops while walking; (2) does not touch heel-to-toe; (3) steps off the line; (4) uses arms to balance; (5) improper turn; and (6) incorrect number of steps.

  • Stops while walking. A clue is recorded if the subject stops while walking. Officers are trained not to record this clue if the subject is merely walking slowly. It is because of this clue that it is important for officers to inform the subject not to stop walking once the test begins.
  • Does not touch heel-to-toe. This clue is recorded if the subject leaves a space of more than one half inch between the heel and toe on any step.   
  • Steps off the line. A clue is recorded if the subject steps so that one foot is entirely off the line.
  • Uses arms to balance. This clue is recorded if the subject raises one or both arms more than 6 inches from the subject’s sides in order to maintain balance. This clue may be recorded simultaneously with other clues.
  • Improper turn. This clue is recorded if the subject removes their front foot from the line while turning. This clue is also recorded if the subject does not follow directions as instructed, i.e., spins or pivots around or loses balance while turning. Remember, the instruction is to take a “series of small steps.” To successfully complete the turn, the front foot should be used as a pivot while the other foot propels the subject through the turn in a series of small steps (imagine someone using their foot to push themselves on a skateboard but less dramatic). Officers are trained to demonstrate to subjects an improper turn.
  • Incorrect number of steps. A clue is recorded if the subject takes more or fewer than nine steps in either direction. Here it is the number of steps that the subject physically takes that matters here. Mistakes in the verbal count do not justify recording this clue.

As we saw there are a total of eight (8) possible clues, two
in the instruction stage and six in the performance stage. Officers only need
to observe two clues in order to reliably indicate impairment.

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