Alcohol isn’t the only substance that can affect your driving and get you in trouble with the police. A DUI, for most people, refers to a charge of drunk driving. In reality, however, you can be charged with a DUI for driving under the influence of any drug or chemical that negatively impacts your driving. It doesn’t have to be illegal drugs or chemicals, either.
Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking alcohol and driving, but many people might not think twice before taking medicine and getting on the road. A DUI for driving after taking prescription or over-the-counter medication is still a DUI, and it will have a lasting and negative effect on your future. Consult with a prescription medication DUI attorney to see how you may be able to defend yourself against these charges. You don’t want this on your record.
Even if you can avoid a conviction, however, the fact that you were arrested and charged with a DUI will be with you forever if you don’t get it removed from your record. Potential employers might not care that it was an accidental DUI because you were taking cold medicine. A DUI is a DUI.
Per Se and Impairment DUIs
Specific laws on DUIs vary from state to state, but generally speaking, all states make a distinction between a “per se” DUI charge and an “impairment” DUI charge. When people think about DUIs, they often think about per se DUIs first.
A per se charge means there is evidence that the driver was beyond the legally-allowed level of intoxication. You can be convicted if you were shown to have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more.
An impairment DUI is not based on an actual measurement of the drugs in your system but on the observed effects that the drugs or alcohol have on your driving. This is generally where prescription drug and OTC medicine DUIs come in.
A law enforcement officer must observe that a drug or medication has a substantial impairing effect on your driving to qualify for an impairment DUI.
Finding Probable Cause
Because of the more ambiguous and subjective nature of impairment DUIs, it comes down to the police officer’s perception of your behavior. Regardless of what medications you do or don’t have in your system, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you are committing a crime or infraction to be able to pull you over.
They may see you driving erratically, weaving, or jerking back-and-forth, and they’ll decide to pull you over. While officers can assess alcohol levels on the spot with a breathalyzer, that’s not the case for other drugs and medications.
To arrest and charge you, they must find probable cause to think that you are under the influence of drugs. They can see the probable cause through your behavior, your words, or by the presence of the medications or anything else in your car.
Even if you get a zero on the breathalyzer, you may fail other sobriety tests, and those will be used as evidence against you.
If they arrest you on suspicion of impairment, they will likely follow up with a test of your urine or blood to try to establish the presence of an impairing substance. All states have an “implied consent” law that states that drivers have consented to potential testing by getting a license and driving on the roads.
You can refuse to be tested, but you will face other legal consequences as a result, and they may end up securing a warrant to be able to test you against your will.
The excellent news about medicine-related DUIs, as opposed to alcohol-related DUIs, is that there’s less of a chance that your license will be suspended or that you will suffer other directly driving-related consequences through the DMV.
On the criminal side of things, you will still face the same possible legal consequences from the judge, however. If this is your first DUI, you will probably have to pay a fine of between $200 and $2,000, and you might spend up to a year in jail, depending on the circumstances of the case and your judge. Check the specific laws in your state to see how penalties may vary.
By far the most significant penalty for a drug-related DUI is probably the mark on your record. After you’ve paid the fines and done any jail time or community service, you will still have to carry that criminal history with you.
If you’re a repeat offender or you brought harm to a lot of people with your driving, your DUI might be escalated to a felony, which is a very serious criminal charge. In that case, a conviction will be more detrimental to your future career prospects and even your ability to vote in some states.
When the stakes are so high like this, it’s always worth it to explore your options and speak with an attorney to see what defense you might have against a conviction. If you took medicine without knowing it, or if there were no way you could have been aware of the effects the drugs would have on you, you might be able to contest the charge.
A drug-related DUI charge also relies on the evidence. If there is no concrete evidence of specific medication-use or you otherwise have no record of wrongdoing, you might be able to fight back against the charge or at least have it reduced from a DUI to a charge of reckless driving. The lesser charge includes less severe criminal penalties and doesn’t carry the same stigma as a DUI.
It’s not worth going through this solely for convenience or to give yourself some relief from your allergies. Before you take any medication, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, check the side effects, and consider if you’re going to need to drive — many medications advise not to operate a vehicle while taking the medication.
It may impair your driving if the possible side effects include nausea, blurred vision, drowsiness, lack of focus, dizziness or fainting, even if it doesn’t specifically mention that you should not operate heavy machinery.
Although a medication’s side effects may not include anything that affects your driving, it may interact unpredictably with other drugs you take. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines that you take and discuss your driving obligations.
They can tell you what is or isn’t safe. With their help, you can make a plan by either changing your driving habits or adjusting your medication schedule to ensure you drive safely and avoid breaking the law.