Can You Get a DUI for Driving on Legal Drugs?

Roughly 2 million DUI arrests are recorded in the US every year

Some people believe that DUI charges are specially restricted to people driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, but that’s not entirely true. In most states in the US, a person can be arrested and charged with a DUI case even if they were driving under the influence of a prescription drug.

With over 5 million DUI arrests in the past decade alone, the government and legislature are doing everything possible to prevent unsafe or impaired driving that endangers the lives of innocent citizens.

So if you think you can escape a DUI charge because your drugs were legal and prescribed to you, you’re in for a shock. In fact, the law doesn’t take prescription drug DUI charges lightly, and you could face jail time, pay heavy fines or lose your license.

Suppose you’ve been wondering if an impairment from a prescription medication can get you into a DUI trouble, this article explores how taking legal drugs can lead to a drug impaired driving charge. Keep reading!

What Is Regarded as a DUI Offense?

To fully understand how prescription drugs can lead to a DUI charge, we must first understand what counts as a DUI charge. According to the DUI laws in most states, you can be arrested and charged with a DWI/DUI offense for:

  1. Driving or operating a vehicle while impaired on a public pathway
  2. Being under the influence of alcohol or any legal or illegal medications that cause intoxication.

So to be arrested and charged, you must have been operating a vehicle on a public roadway. Plus, you must have been under the influence of any substance, alcohol, or drugs (both prescribed and illegal) that might have affected your motor skills and put other road users at risk.

However, the level of impairment will determine how serious the charge will be. In some states like Nevada and California, minimal impairment might not be enough for a solid DUI conviction. The prosecution will have to prove that the driver was under substantial impairment enough to put them and road users in danger.

Other states like New York and Colorado have zero tolerance laws, and you can be arrested and charged for being slightly impaired. In New York, once there’s a remote chance your impairment affects your abilities to drive safely, you’ll get a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) charge.

Why Legal Drugs Might Lead to DUI Charges

We’ve already stated the factors involved in a DUI charge. Alcohol, prescription drugs, or any other substances that can lead to you being a danger on a public roadway will lead to a DUI charge.

Besides, if you check the warning labels of most prescription drugs, there’s usually a warning not to operate heavy machinery after taking the said drug. Here are some side effects of these prescription medicines that might hinder your ability to drive safely.

  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of focus or attention
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Slow reaction time

Driving while suffering from these symptoms can impair judgment, affect basic cognitive functions, and lead to fatal crashes and loss of lives.

Different prescription medications can lead to driving impairment. While many might think it’s only reserved for narcotics like opioids, it isn’t entirely true.

Epilepsy medications like carbamazepine¬† and sedatives can also affect safe driving. However, these medications affect people differently; while it might cause one driver to be impaired, it might not affect the other. So, the driver’s system will play a major role in their level of impairment, but generally, it’s not advisable to hit the road after these types of prescription medications.

A prescription medication can lead to a drugged driving charge

Impairment and Per Se Charges

There are two types of DUI charges: Per Se and impairment charges. We’ll be looking into both.

Per Se Charges

Per se DUIs don’t require the prosecution to prove if the driver was impaired or not. The only thing needed is the concentration of a substance in the driver’s system.

So the prosecution only needs to provide the blood alcohol content measured during an alcohol test on the driver; if it exceeds the maximum allowed based on the state’s DUI laws, the driver will be charged.

There’s no need to prove actual impairment. Generally, operating a vehicle or any other automated technology with a blood alcohol count (BAC) higher than 0.08% is illegal in all American states.

Alcohol isn’t the only substance with a specific concentration limit. Most states have specific limits for other substances like amphetamine, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana.

For example, in Washington and Montana, there are specific marijuana laws. You can be convicted if you have more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of your blood. THC is marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient and can be detected with a blood test.

However, there are no per se DUI laws for drivong under the influence of drugs considered legal. In cases like this, impairment charges are used.

Impairment DUI Charges

Driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances that can cause impairment is illegal in America. However, illegal medications and alcohol aren’t the only substances that can cause impairment; over the counter or prescribed drugs can do that too.

So generally, a police officer can conduct a blood test on a driver if there’s the slightest evidence that the driver is physically or mentally impaired. Poor performance or failure of the test can lead to a DUI arrest and possible conviction.

Even if the tests come back clean, probably because the impairment was caused by a prescribed or over the counter drug, the driver can still be arrested and charged.

Penalties for Prescription Drugs DUI 

In most states in the US, prescription drug and drunk driving DUI charges attract the same penalties. If the driver has no prior alcohol related offenses, they might only lose their license for six months to a year.

In fatal car crashes where casualties or injuries were recorded, the driver could pay heavy fines, spend time in jail, and lose their license for up to three years.

Personal and Social Repercussions

Besides the legal penalties associated with DUI convictions, it’ll also affect your day-to-day activities. For example, losing your license will disrupt your schedule. You’ll have to find other ways to get to work, grocery stores, take your kids to school, and more.

Furthermore, a DUI conviction is a criminal offense and will appear on your record, which can become a challenge because not many employers will hire someone with a criminal record.

Defenses to Prescription Drug DUI Charges

If you’ve been arrested for prescription or drug-related DUI, you need to hire a DUI defense attorney immediately. Check for quality law firms around you or seek the assistance of a lawyer online.

They’ll direct you on what to do next and whether you have any legal stand. With a good lawyer, you might be able to walk away without a fine or have your fines reduced. You might also retain your license and avoid jail time.

The Bottom Line

Many people believe that they’ll never have problems with DUI arrests because they don’t take alcohol or illegal drugs. However, you could face a DUI charge if a prescribed or legal drug causes you any form of driving impairment.

Some prescription drugs have side effects that make it difficult to operate a motor vehicle properly. In cases like this, you could be arrested and face a DUI charge.

Penalties for such charges are usually as severe as those for normal DUIs. If you find yourself involved in a DUI related to prescribed medications, seek the counsel of a DUI defense attorney immediately.

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