Officers use the divided attention roadside test as a tool to investigate DUI’s. These roadside tests are often used instead of breathalyzers during a field sobriety test. DUI roadside divided attention tests have a high rate of being successful in determining if you are too intoxicated to drive. How do these roadside tests work? What should you know about them if you ever find yourself in this situation?
What is a Divided Attention Test?
One of the best ways for officers to tell if you are too drunk to drive is by testing your divided attention. So much of driving is being able to split your attention to multiple tasks. You must be able to steer, accelerate, brake, focus on speed, etc. Someone who is intoxicated is able to focus on one of these pretty well. The fault lies in being able to divide your attention to multiple different tasks at once. Officers will use certain techniques during your divided attention roadside test to assess your ability to designate your attention to different tasks. The best of these kinds of tests exercise the same mental and physical tasks one uses during driving:
- Information processing
- Short-term memory
- Judgment and decision-making
- Steady, sure reactions
- Clear vision
- Small muscle control
- Coordination of limbs
Any roadside test that can test at least two of these concepts at once will do a relatively accurate job of telling how impaired you are. The two most common types of tests that test your abilities are the Walk and Turn and the One-Leg-Stand
Walk and Turn Divided Attention Test
The walk and turn divided attention test has been widely used across the country as well as being validated through extensive research. This divided attention test consists of two stages:
- Instructions stage
- Walking stage
The Instruction stage starts with the subject standing on a line with feet in heel-to-toe position, keeping arms at sides and listen to instructions. Most people don’t think that the test starts at the instruction phase but you can assume that whenever an officer is in your presence they are taking note of your behavior and movement. This Instruction Phase divides the subject’s attention between a balancing task (standing on the line while maintaining the heel-to-toe position) and an information processing task (listening to and remembering instructions).
In the Walking stage of the divided attention test, the subject must take nine heel-to-toe steps down the line, turn in a prescribed way, and take nine heel-to-toe steps up the line all while counting out loud. During the turn, the subject must keep one foot on the line, pivot on that foot, and use the other to take several small steps to complete the turn. The walking stage divides the subject’s attention among a balancing task (walking heel-to-toe and turning on the line); a small muscle control task (counting out loud); and a short-term memory task (recalling the number of steps and turning instructions).
These Walk and Turn divided attention tests are administered and interpreted in a standardized fashion (ie, the same every time). The officer’s job is to watch the subject intently and look for clues that the person is intoxicated:
- Can’t balance during instructions
- Starts too soon
- Stops while walking
- Doesn’t touch heel-to-toe
- Steps off line
- Uses arms to balance
- Loses balance on turn or turns incorrectly
- Takes the wrong number of steps
Sometimes people can’t complete the test at all. Inability to complete the task occurs when;
- Steps off the line three or more times
- Is in danger or falling
- Cannot do the test
Research has shown that if a suspect exhibits two or more of the clues above, or if they cannot complete the test, they are likely to have a BAC above .10. This criterion has been shown to be reliable 68% of the time.
The One-Leg Stand Divided Attention Test
The one leg stand divided attention test has also been validated through extensive research and can also be separated into two stages:
- Instructions Stage
- Balancing and Counting Stage
The instructions phase, the subject must stand with feet together, keep arms at sides and listen to instructions. This divides the subject’s attention between a balancing task and an information processing task.
In the balancing and counting stage, the subject must stand on one foot and hold the other foot straight approximately six inches off the ground, toes pointed forward and parallel to the ground while staring at the upraised foot and counting aloud from “one thousand and one” until told to stop. This divides the subject’s attention between balancing (standing on one foot) and small muscle control (counting out loud).
Counting until told to stop is a very important part of this task. Research has shown the people who are impaired can successfully count to 25 but that few can do so for 30. The clues the officer looks for in this task are;
- Sways while balancing;
- Uses arms to balance;
- Puts the foot down.
Sometimes suspects cannot complete this task, this occurs when;
- Puts the foot down three or more times, during the 30-second count;
- Cannot do the test.
Research shows that if a suspect exhibits two or more of the clues or cannot complete the task, the suspect’s BAC is likely to be above .10. This criterion has been shown to be reliable 65% of the time.
These are just a few ways that police can determine your level of intoxication during a field sobriety test. It is very important that you are aware of your mental and physical state while driving. Contact an attorney if you are charged with a DUI or DWAI. Find out your options, potential punishments and any other information regarding a DUI. This is not legal advice. These tests are voluntary and are an extension of your Fifth Amendment rights; it is usually not in our client’s best interest to take these roadside tests. Contact your attorney to gain advice about your unique situation.
For more information:
By Shannon Lynch