Police officers use a battery of tests called field sobriety tests (FSTs) to determine whether the driver of a vehicle is impaired and to develop probable cause to arrest the driver for drunk driving. FSTs fall into two categories: (1) Standardized FSTs under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); and (2) Non-standardized FSTs. The Finger to Nose test is a non-standardized field sobriety test under NHTSA.
A non-standardized test is a test that has not been validated by any organization. With standardized tests, there are several studies to show that someone who shows several clues in performing those tests are most likely under the influence and too impaired to drive. No such studies have been done on non-standardized tests so the accuracy of testing sobriety is unsubstantiated.
What is the Finger to Nose Test?
In the Finger to Nose test, the subject is instructed to stand with his or her feet together, close their eyes, and tilt their head slightly back. The subject is then instructed to touch the tip of their finger (one arm at a time) to the tip of his/her nose. Because the finger to nose test is non-standardized, the test may be instructed with several variations, but the California Highway Patrol instructs suspected DUI subject by touching his/her tip of the nose with the tip of the finger three times for each hand (six times total). The officer should instruct the subject on which hand to use during the test making the finger to nose test unique as it is the only test where instructions are given during the test itself.
What are the Clues in the Finger to Nose Test?
As in most field sobriety tests, law enforcement administering the test is looking for “clues” to determine whether there is impairment. There are several potential clues that an officer may attempt to observe:
- Is the subject able to follow instructions? If no, then it is a clue.
- Are there eyelid or other muscle tremors? If yes, then it is a clue.
- Are there balance issues or noticeable sway? If yes, then it is a clue.
- Is the finger approaching the nose in a fluid manner? Not too fast? Not too slow? If no, then it is a clue?
- Has the subject improperly touched the fingertip to the tip of the nose? If yes, then it is a clue.
Any one or a combination of these clues may provide law enforcement probable cause to believe the subject may be impaired and under the influence.
What are the Problems with the Finger to Nose Test?
As with all Field Sobriety Tests, the appearance of clues does not necessarily correlate with impairment. Often other issues, such as physical disabilities or illness may impact a person’s ability to perform the test properly. However, because the Finger to Nose test is a non-standardized test, there are no studies to determine what the clues mean, if anything. Also, because the test is non-standardized, it means that there are potentially great discrepancies in how it is administered by law enforcement, from state to state, agency to agency, and even officer to officer. The variance in administration of the test leads to variance in the results of the test.
As with all Field Sobriety Tests, the best way to pass a test is simply not to take it. They are voluntary, after all.