A Premiere Rhode Island Law Firm

Taking the walk-and-turn field sobriety test

On Behalf of | Dec 18, 2023 | Criminal Defense

A police officer can only make a drunk driving arrest when they have probable cause to believe that a motorist is operating their vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Rhode Island’s implied consent law allows police officers in the Ocean State to demand breath, blood, or urine samples when they suspect drivers are impaired, but the laws in most states only allow officers to make these requests after motorists have been taken into custody. In these states, police officers ask drivers to take standardized field sobriety tests when they are looking for evidence of drunk driving.

The walk-and-turn test

The walk-and-turn test is a part of the standardized field sobriety test that many motorists struggle with. To complete the test, motorists first listen to directions given by the police officer administering the test. They must then walk heel-to-toe for nine paces with their arms by their side. After they have completed nine paces, motorists must turn around and repeat the procedure. While they are taking the test, police officers look for signs of impairment including:

  • Starting the test too early
  • Problems maintaining balance
  • Stopping before nine paces have been completed
  • Failing to walk heel-to-toe
  • Failing to walk in a straight line
  • Failing to turn correctly
  • Throwing the arms up to provide balance

Challenging the results of a walk-and-turn-test

The results of a field sobriety test may be enough to provide probable cause to make a DUI arrest, but they do not give prosecutors compelling evidence of intoxication. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed the standardized field sobriety test, and the agency concedes that police officers come to the wrong conclusion about 34% of the time when they ask drivers to take the walk-and-turn test. The test is particularly challenging for motorists who suffer from medical conditions that affect balance, are over the age of 65 or overweight.

Field sobriety tests

Police officers in many parts of the country ask motorists to take field sobriety tests when they observe signs of impairment but do not have probable cause to make an arrest. In Rhode Island, field sobriety tests are rare because the state’s implied consent law allows police officers to require motorists suspected of driving drunk to take roadside breath tests.