How reliable is the walk-and-turn test?

If you’re pulled over for a traffic stop and the officer suspects that you’ve been drinking, you’ll likely be asked to take a variety of roadside sobriety tests. One of these is called the walk-and-turn (WAT) test — which requires you to walk a straight line, heels touching toes, and turn without losing your balance. Then you have to walk back the exact same way, all without stepping off the line — as if you were balancing on an imaginary tightrope or balance beam instead of a simple chalk line on the road.

It seems like something that anyone sober should be able to pass, right?


The WAT test is one of the most controversial roadside sobriety tests commonly used today because there are numerous reasons that a perfectly sober driver can fail the test. It doesn’t really measure sobriety so much as it measures someone’s agility and balance — both of which can vary on any given day or become impaired for any number of reason.

Think of it this way: If walking like that were that easy, it wouldn’t take any special skill to actually walk a real balance beam, but the average driver probably wouldn’t feel comfortable hopping up and trying it.

Even the training manual given to officers who are learning roadside sobriety testing techniques cautions that the WAT test is invalid for drivers aged 65 and older, anyone with inner ear disease (which affects the ability to balance) and anyone with leg injuries. However, there’s every reason to believe that the test can also be difficult for much younger people as well. Anyone significantly overweight may have a difficult time balancing. Similarly, pregnant women, drivers with ear infections and drivers suffering from back injuries may find walking normally difficult enough — making the WAT test next to impossible. Cataracts, poor depth perception and nearsightedness can also make it difficult to keep your foot on that thin little line.

Don’t let a failed WAT test send you to jail or leave you a convicted drunk driver. An attorney can help you learn more about how you can challenge a field sobriety test.

Source:, “The Use Of Field Sobriety Tests In Drunk Driving Enforcement,” accessed July 27, 2017

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