Many people assume that you can only get a DUI from drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs. This is not true. Even the use of legal drugs, such as prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines, can lead to an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI).
State legislatures want to do everything in their power to prevent any form of impaired driving in order to ensure safety on the roads. This means that even though you may be taking drugs or medications legally, you can still be arrested for a DUI from legal drug use if your driving is impaired in any way.
You Can Get a DUI from Legal Drug Use
You can be arrested for a DUI from legal drug use because legal drugs can still impair your driving. These prescription and over the counter drugs can affect your ability to think clearly and slow down your reaction times, much like alcohol and illicit drugs. You can be charged with a DUI for any impaired driving whatsoever, regardless of the substance you take. The only factors that will need to be shown are that
- You drove a car and
- Your ability to drive was impaired because you took a drug, drank alcohol, or both
A “drug” includes any prescription drug and even over the counter medications. For example, consider a woman that takes medication to deal with her allergies. Clearly labeled on the container of this medication is a warning that states that no one should drive after taking the medicine because it can cause drowsiness. This woman still takes the medicine before leaving for work in the morning. While driving, the medicine causes the woman to feel drowsy. She is then pulled over by an officer and cited for DUI. Because her legal drug use caused symptoms that were likely to impair her driving, she could be charged with driving under the influence.
You Can Get a DUI from Legal Drug Use In All 50 States
All 50 states have their own versions of DUI laws. However, one thing they all have in common is that no state makes DUI arrests strictly for driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. That means in every state you can be charged with DUI from legal drug use for taking prescription medications or over the counter medicines.
If you choose to drive while taking any substance that impairs your driving ability, you can still be found guilty and punished in the same way as someone who drove after drinking alcohol or taking illegal drugs. The penalties of a DUI can be quite severe, so it’s best not to risk it if you are taking any medication that impairs your driving.
State Law Differences Related to DUI from Legal Drug Use
Some states differ around the way they enforce a DUI charge. For example, Massachusetts tries to make it clear by stating specific drugs that can cause impairment. The law in Massachusetts actually cites “narcotic drugs, depressants, and stimulant substances.”
California goes one step above Massachusetts and makes their DUI law clear. California law states that you cannot use the defense that you were “entitled” to use your drug. In other words, you cannot try to fight your case in court by arguing that your doctor prescribed you the drugs that caused your intoxication.
In addition, California law even limits types of people who can drive a car. If you live in California and you are addicted to a drug, you are prohibited from driving altogether. There are minor exceptions to this, but the overall theme of drawing a line between drug use and driving remains clear.
It’s important to read all warning labels on any medications you take before driving. If you believe you can still drive a car after taking your prescribed medication, you should consider talking with your doctor. Your doctor should have given you the proper warnings before prescribing you the drugs.
The Future of Legal Drug Use and DUI
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is trying to push for stricter enforcement of DUI laws in the future. This group is pushing strongly for this by citing statistics that a large percentage of nighttime drivers are driving with some type of drug or alcohol in their system. This group of impaired drivers is not limited to just people who have at least a 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC).
The NHTSA cites that the number of people driving with even a slight degree of impairment has been increasing, and they continue to do research on drug usage and the impact from the use of different dosages of drugs on driving ability. In the future, they may push for stricter control on the distribution of over-the-counter drugs, stimulants, sedatives, and antidepressants that are likely to cause some level of impairment.
Currently, prosecuting and obtaining convictions against suspects charged with DUI from legal drug use can be challenging. Many states, including Florida, do not require a test to quantify the amount of drugs in a person’s body in a DUI case, meaning that it can be difficult to prove how impaired the person was at the time they were pulled over. This might change with all the data the NHTSA has collected.
The NHTSA is constantly assessing drug impairment on driving. On the road to more harsh DUI laws in the future, you can expect to see more statistics that combine legal drug use with poor driving behavior, such as reckless driving, weaving, failing to observe street signs, and slow reactions to road hazards.
Do not get confused and believe that DUI arrests are limited to those using illegal drugs or drinking alcohol only. Remember that legal prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines can still lead to a DUI if you take them before driving a car. If you have recently been arrested for a DUI from legal drug use, you should talk to a lawyer that can help you out with your situation. If your DUI involved legal drug use, a lawyer can clearly explain to you how your state enforces DUI laws, and whether you might have a good chance at defending your case. You can try out our legal marketplace for free to get in touch with a good DUI lawyer today.