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What Are "Divided Attention" Field Sobriety Tests?

In Iowa, as in other states across the country, law enforcement officers administer a standardized battery of three field sobriety tests to a driver suspected of driving while intoxicated. The tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, or HGN test, the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test.

Two of these tests, the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand, are considered "divided attention" tests. They require suspects to divide their attention between following simple instructions and performing simple physical tasks.

A person who is intoxicated will have trouble dividing their attention between mental and physical tasks simultaneously. Most people can concentrate on a single task, like walking a straight line, when they are intoxicated. But, when a second task is added, they will exhibit signs of intoxication.

In the walk and turn test, these signs or clues of intoxication include losing balance while listening to the instructions, beginning the test too soon, stopping while performing the test, stepping out of the straight line, using their arms to balance themselves and taking the wrong number of steps. In the one-leg stand test, signs of intoxication include putting the raised foot down before the required 30 seconds are up, hopping, using arms to maintain balance and swaying.

There is a significant subjective element in evaluating a person's performance on these tests. Other factors, such as age, weight and medical conditions, can also affect the results. When given without other tests, the walk-and-turn test is only 68 percent accurate in detecting alcohol impairment. The one-leg stand test is only 65 percent accurate when given on its own. Anyone charged with operating while intoxicated on the basis of failing one of these tests may want consider challenging the test result.

Source: Texas District & County Attorneys Association, "Field Sobriety Test Review," accessed Nov. 26, 2016

Categories
  • The Iowa State Bar Association
  • DUI Defense Law
  • NACDL
  • AAJ
  • Iowa Association of Justice

Keegan, Tindal, & Mason 

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  • J. Dean Keegan
  • Eric D. Tindal
  • Andrea D. Mason
  • J. Dean Keegan J. Dean Keegan

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    Decades of Award-Winning Legal Service J. Dean Keegan was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa. After high school, Dean served ...
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  • Eric D. Tindal Eric D. Tindal

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    Highly Rated Criminal Defense in Iowa City Eric D. Tindal, attorney at Keegan, Tindal & Mason, graduated from the University ...
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  • Andrea D. Mason Andrea D. Mason

    Attorney

    Experienced Criminal Defense in the Iowa and Illinois Quad Cities Andrea D. Mason practices in the areas of white collar ...
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  • Possession with Intent to Deliver Marijuana and Methamphetamine Charges Dismissed

    Washington Count FECR5351. Attorney Tindal and Attorney Clemens Erdahl successfully argued that evidence of drug manufacture was obtained in violation of the Constitution. All charges were dismissed.

  • Possession with Intent to Distribute Charges Dismissed

    Iowa County FECR010358. Attorney Tindal was able to show the Court that his client was detained in violation of his Constitutional rights and that the K9 utilized in the search was unreliable. Following hearing all charges were dismissed.

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    Johnson County FECR089277. The Defendant was charged with Second Degree Sexual Abuse and other charges. Following a one-week trial by Mr. Tindal, the Defendant was acquitted of all charges.

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    Iowa Supreme Court No. 04-361. The Defendant was convicted of Sexual Abuse in the 2nd Degree. On appeal, Mr. Tindal successfully argued that the conviction was based on improperly admitted evidence. The conviction was reversed.

  • Trafficking Stolen Weapons and Misdemeanor Theft Charge Dismissed

    Scott County FECR384046. The Defendant was charged with Trafficking Stolen Weapons and Misdemeanor Theft. The Court dismissed the felony following a Motion litigated by Mr. Tindal. The Defendant subsequently pled to the remaining misdemeanor.

  • Vehicular Homicide Charges Reduced

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  • First Degree Murder and Child Endangerment Causing Death Acquitted of First Degree Murder at Trial

    Henry County FECR005634. Attorney Tindal’s client was charged with First Degree Murder and Child Endangerment Causing Death. Following a two week trial, the Defendant was acquitted of all charges.

  • Operating While Intoxicated Reduced to Public Intoxication

    Johnson County OWCR116811. The Defendant was charged with Operating While Intoxicated. Mr. Tindal was able to win the Iowa Dept of Transportation appeal and have the blood test result thrown out. The case was resolved for a public intoxication charge and no loss of license.

  • Operating While Intoxicated Second Offense Reduced to Public Intoxication

    Washington County OWIN010946. The Defendant was charged with Operating While Intoxicated Second Offense. Following long negotiations with the State the Defendant was able to plead to a Public Intoxication and have his driving privileges reinstated.

  • Operating While Intoxicated Record Expunged

    Johnson OWCR106890. Attorney Dean Keegan's client received an Operating While Intoxicated, a serious misdemeanor. After reviewing the videos, Mr. Keegan filed a Motion to Suppress arguing the officer denied his client's right to make a phone call. The State declined to present testimony at the hearing and the Motion to Suppress was granted, making the client eligible for a deferred judgment. Mr. Keegan's client will have her record expunged and be able to obtain a license after 90 days instead of 180.

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