Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
What is a HGN field sobriety test?
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. Under normal circumstances, nystagmus occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. However, when a person is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles. An alcohol-impaired person will also often have difficulty smoothly tracking a moving object.
In the HGN field sobriety test, the police officer observes the eyes of an individual suspected of driving under the influence, as they follow a slowly moving object, horizontally with his or her eyes. The police officer looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye:
- if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly,
- if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation,
- if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center.
If, between the two eyes, four or more clues appear, the suspect likely has a BAC of 0.08 or greater. Research has found that the HGN standardized field sobriety test allows proper classification of approximately 88 percent of suspects (Stuster and Burns, 1998). The HGN field sobriety test may also indicate consumption of seizure medications, phencyclidine, a variety of inhalants, barbiturates, and other depressants.