Law enforcement is always trying to come up with new ways to test for impaired driving. In Omaha, Nebraska, one relatively new test used by some officers is the “Rhomberg Test”. The test itself is not new; however, its use as an indicator of alcohol and/or drug use is relatively new – and very controversial.
The Rhomberg test was originally developed by a German neurologist to test for neurological issues. The exam tests the body’s sense of positioning (proprioception) which, when translated into a test for impaired driving tests a driver’s balance as well as the driver’s internal clock. The theory behind using the Rhomberg test is that both poor balance and a poor sense of time are indicators of alcohol and/or drug use. It is important to note that the Rhomberg test is not one of the standardized field sobriety tests that have been approved by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Moreover, there is very little scientific evidence that the test is an accurate indicator of impairment; however, law enforcement officers use the test anyway so it is best to understand how it is administered and what the officer is watching for to decide if the driver passes or fails the test.
The following is an example of how the test is explained to law enforcement officers:
Stand straight with feet together, arms at the side and remain this way until told to start. When told to start, tell the subject to begin the test by tilting their head back, close their eyes, and estimate 30 seconds while remaining in this position. Once they think 30 seconds is gone by, instruct them to bring their head forward, open their eyes and say “stop.”
An officer is basically looking for two indicators of alcohol or drug use during the test – balance problems and time distortion. Specifically, an officer may watch for the following “cues”:
- Eyelid or leg tremors
- A count that is less than 25 seconds or more than 35 seconds
- Whether the suspect was able to follow the directions
One problem with the Rhomberg test for impaired driving in Omaha, as well as with other non-standardized field sobriety tests, is that there is neither a universally accepted set of cues nor set of guidelines for administering the test or for determining passage or failure. In essence, the officer conducting the test decides if the suspect passed or failed based on whatever factors the officer wants to use.