Make no mistake about it -- you can be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) while taking legal drugs. You may be wondering, how is that even possible? Simply put, the use of legal drugs, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, can lead to a DUI arrest and eventual conviction just the same as an alcohol-related 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. Even though you may be taking medications legally, either because a doctor prescribed them, or you purchased them at a pharmacy, you can still be arrested for a DUI from legal drug use if your driving is impaired in any way.
Below you will find information on getting a DUI on legal drugs, information on symptoms associated with legal drug use that can impair your ability to drive, and where to go to find more information. Always follow your doctor’s instructions regarding prescription drug use and speak to him or her if you are unsure of a drug’s side effects.
Elements of a DUI Offense Generally
In order to be arrested and charged with a DUI/DWI offense, a person must have:
- Driven a vehicle on a public roadway (or was in actual physical control of the vehicle as defined by state laws); and
- At the time of driving, was under the influence of alcohol or any legal or controlled substances.
“Under the influence” means the driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle was affected to an appreciable degree by an alcoholic beverage, a drug, or a combination of the two. By definition, you can be under the influence of legal drugs for the purposes of driving.
Impaired Driving Charges: Legal Drugs
The above rule regarding a drug-related DUI applies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – this includes the use of illegal or prescription drugs. Many prescription and over-the-counter medications will have an effect on your coordination, motor skills, and more – even when you take the prescribed dosage. Some common drugs side effects that can impact your ability to drive include:
- Blurred vision
- Slowed movement
- Inability to focus or pay attention
Of course, different drugs affect drivers in different ways. But those that impair judgment, alertness, and concentration or motor skills are considered just as dangerous as alcohol. Any one of the above-mentioned symptoms alone can lead to unsafe driving, slow reaction time, or even a car crash. While some people believe that only your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) counts for a DUI, that is ultimately not true. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly cautions against driving and taking certain over-the-counter drugs, such as antihistamines.
Other substances such as kombucha tea (fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast) and herbal supplements containing small, measurable amounts of alcohol (such as ginseng which is often taken in an alcohol-based tincture or kava, which is itself a sedative that may be considered impairing in larger doses), may also have an effect on your ability to drive. Kombucha tea, for instance, while legal, contains a tiny amount of alcohol that can also register a BAC reading on a Breathalyzer test in some situations. Just ask Lindsey Lohan, the embattled celebrity who has had a few DUI-related convictions herself. She claimed one of her DUI arrests was due to merely drinking kombucha tea.
Drug-Related DUI Penalties
Overall, the penalties for a DUI on legal drugs and a DUI while under the influence of alcohol are the same, assuming there are no aggravating factors such as being caught with other, illegal drugs in your vehicle. Keep in mind, each case is different and what your sentence will be at the end of the day depends on a number of factors such as prior criminal history, the severity of your current DUI, and the state in which you live.
Arrested for a DUI on Legal Drugs? An Attorney Can Help
While it may seem beyond comprehension that your prescription for over-the-counter drugs got you arrested, the truth is that taking drugs, any drugs, and driving is illegal if you're impaired. To help answer your questions about this charge, speak with a qualified DUI/DWI attorney in your jurisdiction.