The Romberg Balancing Test in Your Milwaukee DUI Arrest

Police officers use a variety of field sobriety tests to determine whether DUI suspects are intoxicated. Some of these tests have been studied and found to be applicable for this purpose, but many have not. Among this latter category, one of the most common tests Milwaukee DUI attorneys encounter is the Romberg balancing test.

How the Test Works

Subjects are told to stand with their feet together and hands at their side. They are then asked to close their eyes and tilt their head back. A person whose balance has been compromised, whether due to alcohol intoxication, inner ear problems, neurological disease, or some other cause, will exhibit swaying when asked to stand in this position.

The Romberg balancing test was developed in 1853 by German ear specialist Moritz Heinrich Romberg. It was originally intended for medical diagnosis, not assessment of a person’s intoxication. It is still used for this purpose today.

When used outside of a clinical setting, the basic testing procedure may be modified. A police officer may, for example, ask a test subject to stand heel-to-toe, to extend his arms, to estimate 30 seconds while standing in the position, or to touch the index fingers of alternating hands to his nose.

Most of these modifications have not been studied for their use in field sobriety testing situations. The combination of the Romberg test and the finger-to-nose test has been shown to have some validity as an indicator that a subject has been drinking, but it was not able to predict a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.

Problems With the Test

The biggest problem with the Romberg balancing test as a measure of intoxication is that alcohol is not the only thing that affects a person’s ability to balance. Injury, fatigue, stress, and the aforementioned inner ear and neurological problems can all have an effect.

Because the arresting officer will not have any idea of how much you would sway when you are sober, there is no possible way to compare your performance at the time of your arrest with a known baseline. Balance tests show large individual differences in performance, even for sober individuals.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence and you feel that the field sobriety tests used were improper or were not correctly administered, an experienced Milwaukee DUI lawyer may be able to attack these results in court. For a free evaluation of your case, contact Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C. by filling out the form on this website.