All You Need to Know About Divided Attention Test

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Author: Philip Kim, Founder, Philip Kim Law, P.C.

Defense lawyer Philip Kim has committed his career to standing up for the accused, and protecting the rights and reputations of his valued clients. If you face criminal charges in Georgia, we can provide you with the skilled, effective defense representation you need.

Published on July 25, 2023.


Overview of Divided Attention Tests

Law enforcement officers follow standardized field sobriety tests to determine intoxication. In Georgia, police conduct roadside tests to assess the level of impairment. One way of determining intoxication is to have the suspect perform field sobriety tests that divide their attention.

In these divided attention tests (DATs), the driver is assessed on their ability to carry out multiple tasks simultaneously. These tests involve getting the intoxicated person to switch their attention from one task to another. While the driver performs these tests, police officers assess the driver’s balance, flexibility, coordination, and their ability to listen and follow instructions. The tests involve testing the ability to concentrate physically and mentally simultaneously.

Consult Philip Kim Law, P.C., to learn more about field sobriety tests and how they might affect your DUI case.

Common Divided Attention Tests in Georgia

Law enforcement officers in Georgia provide clear instructions to drivers and sometimes demonstrate the task before drivers perform it. Field sobriety tests involve two phases:

  • The instruction phase

  • The performance phase

The most frequently employed field sobriety tests are:

The walk-and-turn and one-leg-stand tests are classified as “divided attention” tests because they consist of two parts – a mental component and a physical component – and require you to divide your attention between the two components to complete the tasks. 

In these tests, the law enforcement officers assess a driver’s ability to:

  • Follow specific instructions

  • Process information

  • Balance

  • Coordinate their limbs

  • Focus

  • Respond

Walk-And-Turn Test

The test involves walking in a straight line for nine steps, heel-to-toe, with your arms at your side. Upon reaching the nine steps, you’ll be instructed to turn around and walk back to the starting point, heal-to-toe. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires the following conditions for the test:

  • A designated straight line

  • A dry, hard, level, non-slippery surface

  • Adequate space for nine steps

  • An option to remove high-heeled shoes (2-inches high)

During this test, police officers look out for certain signs of intoxication, including:

  • Loss of balance when walking and/or turning

  • Not starting the test until you have read all the instructions

  • Failing to walk heel-to-toe and take the right number of steps.

One-Leg Stand Test

With this test, you must stand on one leg with the other foot elevated approximately six inches from the ground. Law enforcement officers require individuals to count aloud while maintaining balance until they order the drivers to stop.

Additionally, you should keep your eyes on the elevated foot while maintaining balance and counting. You will be considered impaired if you sway, hop, or place your foot down.

Consequences of Failing the DAT During a Traffic Stop

The police interpret subjective signs and the inability to complete tasks as signs of intoxication. Failure to follow instructions is counted as a failure. Failing the field sobriety test can result in arrest.

Factors That May Affect DAT Performance


Here are some factors that affect a divided attention test performance:

Health Conditions

Those suffering from physical or mental health issues may perform poorly. Those who suffer from anxiety may experience anxiety attacks just before the test. As a result, they may not be able to concentrate or process information as normally.

Generally, a divided attention test isn’t appropriate for:

  • Individuals over 65 years
  • Persons with back or leg problems
  • Persons with middle ear problems

Police Error

A police officer can make mistakes such as failing to provide proper instructions. Additionally, improper interpretation, like slow walking, can be mistaken for stopping while walking.

Environmental Conditions

Environmental factors can negatively impact sobriety tests. A variety of factors, such as wind, rain, and snow, may affect balance, making the test more challenging. In addition, testing too close to a road or too far from lightning can also negatively affect results.

Divided Attention Tests: Can They Be Objected to in Court?

Divided attention tests are admissible as evidence in court. During a trial, police officers can provide testimony about an accused’s performance.

Fortunately, you can challenge the test results and the officer’s testimony. A Gwinnett County DUI lawyer can challenge the results using strategies such as:

  • Failure to provide adequate instructions by the testing officer: Defense lawyers review audio or video to check whether the officer administered the tests improperly.

  • That there were poor road and traffic conditions when the test was conducted. Videos, photographs, weather reports, and traffic reports could all be used to prove this.

  • Violation of constitutional rights. The evidence gathered through the violation of any constitutional right is inadmissible and can be suppressed.

  • Other factors affected performance, including clothing, shoes, and health conditions.

Contact Philip Kim Law, P.C., for Excellent Legal Representation

If you fail a divided attention test, you may need legal assistance from a Gwinnett County, Georgia attorney. Defense lawyers at Philip Kim Law, P.C. can assist you in fighting drunk driving charges. Contact us to review your DUI circumstances and challenge the results of any sobriety tests.

Our criminal lawyers in Lawrenceville represent clients in all types of DUI charges. Please schedule a free consultation and discover how we help defend against DUI lawsuits. Contact us today via call or email.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I Refuse to Take Divided Attention Tests?

Field sobriety tests are voluntary. However, Georgia’s implied consent law requires you to submit to a breath test. Refusing to submit to a test of your breath can be held against you in court proceedings. You will face legal consequences if you refuse a breathalyzer test.

How Reliable Are the Results of the DAT in Determining Impairment?

Tests of divided attention are often unreliable indicators of unlawful intoxication. In reality, the test can be passed by a drunk driver and failed by sober drivers. While police receive training on administering field sobriety tests, they can forget some steps. The test is susceptible to issues such as:

  • How the test is administered
  • Pre-existing physical/ mental conditions
  • Unsatisfactory environmental conditions

What Are Divided Attention Skills?

Divided attention, also known as multitasking, directs mental focus toward multiple tasks simultaneously. It entails cognitive skills to enable carrying out tasks quickly and efficiently. Other related skills include alertness, vigilance, and quick coordination.

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