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Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: A Review of Vision Science and Application Issues

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The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test is one component of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test battery. This article reviews the literature on smooth pursuit eye movement and gaze nystagmus with a focus on normative responses, the influence of alcohol on these behaviors, and stimulus conditions similar to those used in the HGN sobriety test. Factors such as age, stimulus and background conditions, medical conditions, prescription medications, and psychiatric disorder were found to affect the smooth pursuit phase of HGN. Much less literature is available for gaze nystagmus, but onset of nystagmus may occur in some sober subjects at 45° or less. We conclude that HGN is limited by large variability in the underlying normative behavior, from methods and testing environments that are often poorly controlled, and from a lack of rigorous validation in laboratory settings.
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Keywords: DUI; DWI; HGN; OWI; driving under the influence; driving while intoxicated; forensic science; horizontal gaze nystagmus; operating while intoxicated; sobriety testing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Private Practice, 11475 Sagecreek, Houston, TX 77089. 2: 2152 JDA Building, College of Optometry, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-2020.

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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