Nick's Blog

Personal opinions. Aggressively stated.

Walk This Way

The Walk-and-Turn test is the one that makes me laugh the most, because it seems so easy to explain, and is in fact so hard to do. The instructors are clear that, when properly demonstrated and administered, it’s an easy enough test for a sober person to complete. Oh yeah? I have trouble doing it and no, I haven’t had a drink today.

But the riff is the same wherever you get it: “Place your right foot in front of your left foot like this (you say, placing your right heel in front of and touching your left toes). Please stand like that, your arms at your side and don’t move until I tell you, do you understand?” Then, standing off in front of them to their right, we say, “While keeping your arms at your side and your eyes on your feet, you’re going to take a series of nine, heel-to-toe steps, then turn in a manner I will demonstrate, and then take another series of nine heel-to-toe steps. While you are walking, you’ll count each step out loud, do you understand?”

Then, when the person murmurs that they understand, we say, “Allright, I’ll demonstrate. One, two, three, and so on, up to nine. When you reach nine, leave your lead foot planted firmly on the ground, and taking a series of small steps with your other foot, turn around, get into the same position you’re in now, and walk back: one, two, three, and so on, until you reach nine. Do you understand?

They say yes (frankly, by now I’m confused myself) and then we say, “Allright, when I tell you to begin, look down at your feet, count each step out loud, keep your arms at your sides and don’t stop until you have completed the task, do you understand?”

And when they say yes, you say, “You may begin.”

The Walk and Turn is a divided attention test that is diabolically difficult for someone to perform while drunk. We’ve been taught to begin the divided attention tests before we even get the drinker out of the car; All politely like, we say things like this:

“Hey sir, may I please see your license and proof of insurance?” and as they reach for it, and we observe things like fumbling, handing you the wrong thing, etc, we say something innocent like, “Where are you coming from right now, sir?” The act of looking for the license and insurance card and thinking about the origin or destination is enough to make the whole carefully-crafted act of a drunk trying to be sober come crashing to the floor in a vomitous, riotous mess.

So if that’s too much, then the whole, “walking and turning and talking and keeping your arms at your sides” thing is just very hard for someone who’s had a few. And of course, we’re looking for specific clues about what they’re too tanked to do. There are eight things they can hork up:

  • Cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions
  • Begins before the instructions are finished
  • Stops while walking to regain balance
  • Does not touch heel-to-toe
  • Steps off the line
  • Uses arms to balance
  • Makes an improper turn
  • Takes an incorrect number of steps

If you commit two or more indicators, NHTSA says that there’s a 79% chance you have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater.

Similarly, the One Leg Stand is a divided attention test – it’s easier to administer than the walk and turn, only because the instructions are not so complex. The person is told to stand with their feet together, arms at their sides, and then, while looking down at their toes, pick one foot six-inches off and held parallel to the ground, while counting aloud, “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three,” and so on, until we tell them to stop (thirty seconds later). There are four indicators of shitfacedness:

  • Swaying while balancing
  • Using arms to balance
  • Hopping to maintain balance
  • Putting the foot down

NHTSA says that any two or more of those four means an 83% likelihood that the person is over 0.08%.

So we’ve spent the morning practicing HGN and learning and practicing OLS and WAT. Our drinkers arrived at noon, and were in the process of getting hammered in the other side of the building. Now at 2:30 pm, the instructor says, “Let’s go play with the drunks.”

They come in the large multi-purpose room and oh, boy! they’re fucked up. We break into groups and each group runs an HGN test on each drunk, but then at the end we do the WAT and OLS on each drunk as a class, so that the drunks don’t get tired.

Or, apparently, surly.

This first day, the group is fairly happy and docile, and it’s amazing to see the HGN tests work so obviously well. We all make mincemeat of the WAT and OLS instructions, but it’s great practice. We spend the time from 3 to 4 pm practicing, and some of us decide to take the final practical exam.

I go in, and Murtaugh is my test suspect. We’re standing in the break room, with Murtaugh looking out into the hallway through the glass doors which are behind me. As I am in the middle of the WAT, Murtaugh starts to giggle. I think I am messing up the test, but I push through. The giggling gets worse and finally I realize that there are people in the hallway making faces or something, and Murtaugh is just unable to control himself. I start to get mad. This is serious stuff – If I fail the practical, I have one more chance and then I can wash out.

Nothing to worry about – I pass the tests the first time out. I go into the hallway.

Now, let me say this: we’re 23 adults who have spent the entirety of 17 weeks together through highly stressful activities. Several of us hate one another – in fact, I don’t think that there is a single cadet among us who does not desire to smash at least one of the other cadets in the teeth. For me, that person is Lt America, and for Lt America, that person is me. Just natural.

So I emerge from the break room, there’s a bunch of people standing there in the hall and I say, “After all I’ve done for this class, for you guys to stand out here and fuck around while I’m taking a test? Fuck y’all,” and I give the finger all around. Lt America takes exception and squares off on me.

It doesn’t matter what we said:

“Bah bah bah,” said Lt America

“Yeah? Well bah bah bah bah!” I retort.

“Bah bah bah BAH!” rejoins Lt America

“Bah bah BAH BAH bah,” I counter. All the while chest bumping one another and pointing fingers in the others’ face.

Then Sig Winchester runs up between us. “Hey, man, it wasn’t him, it was me. I was messing around, and I didn’t realize you were taking a test. I’m sorry.”

Well, shit. So I have to apologize to Lt America, which I do – “I’m sorry – not because you got in my face, but because I was wrong.” His simian mind was not able to process all these simultaneous inputs, but I give him credit for trying. He said something like, “Oog,” and I let it go at that, confident that I had done the right thing.

One day left.

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