Drunk driving is illegal, and so is drugged driving. However, drugged driving doesn’t just cover illicit substances like cocaine, heroin, crystal meth and all the usual suspects. In all U.S. states, you can be charged with driving under the influence even if the drugs you’re found to be taking are ones legally prescribed by your doctor for certain medical conditions.
Unfortunately, not too many people know that prescription drugs and driving simply don’t mix, physiologically and legally. Here are some things you need to know about prescription drugs and drugged driving.
Side Effects of Medications Affect Your Driving
People take medicines for different reasons. Some take them for allergies, while some use these drugs to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, and diabetes. Those who suffer from chronic pain are also often prescribed painkillers which are often opioids, which, in turn, are directly related to heroin.
Some of these legal prescription drugs may ultimately cause a variety of reactions that would make operating a vehicle safely more challenging. Drivers who take these drugs might experience blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating and drowsiness, all of which can make you a danger to yourself, your passengers, and other motorists and pedestrians.
No Distinction between Alcohol and Other Drugs in Most States
As far as impaired driving is concerned, state laws do not differentiate between alcohol and prescription or even over-the-counter medications. You will be charged with a DUI offense if you were caught driving while impaired by alcohol, and a DUID if impaired by any controlled substance.
Even if you have a prescription with you at the time of your arrest, you need to know that in Montana, legal entitlement to use the drug as a defense to a DUID charge is not acceptable. The same rule also applies in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia (with one exception), Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.
In Arizona, there is what is known as a per se prohibition against drugged driving. Under this rule, a driver can be arrested if the police officer claims reasonable suspicion that the driver has any prohibited drug in his or her system while operating the vehicle. As Section 13-3401 of the Arizona code would have it, prescription medications such as anti-anxiety benzodiazepines and painkilling opioids like Oxycodone are listed among the prohibited substances.
As with DUI cases involving alcohol, drugged driving penalties include heavy fines, jail sentences, and revocation of license. These penalties may also vary from state to state. And if you’re convicted of DUID, your conviction will be considered as a prior or subsequent offense for the purposes of calculating the sentence, regardless of whether or not a subsequent offense is due to alcohol or drugs.
You Can Still Drive Safely Even if you’re Taking Medications
Everything depends on the effect prescription medicines have on your driving. To find out how your medications affect the way you drive, talk to a medical professional about it as honestly as you can. Ask your doctor about side effects of the drugs he prescribed. If you’re taking other medications (both prescribed and over-the-counter) or herbal supplements, remember to mention them, too.
This way, your doctor can brief you on possible consequences as well as help minimize the potential negative impact these substances may have on your driving. Among the things your doctor can do is make adjustments to your doses and their timing and change your prescriptions to drugs that cause drowsiness less.
What to Do When Arrested for Drugged Driving
If the police officer asks you to undergo field sobriety tests (FSTs) such as one-leg stand, walk and turn, eye tests, and finger-to-nose tests, you can and should refuse them. They are, after all, voluntary in the state of Arizona, which has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country. Also, FSTs rely on reports made by police officers and are therefore incredibly subjective.
Portable breathalyzer test and blood tests, on the other hand, depend on objective measurement. You can refuse these tests before an arrest. However, because of Arizona’s “implied consent” law, a refusal after an arrest could lead to the confiscation of your driver’s license for at least a year, even if you’re not convicted of a DUI. There are similar laws in many other states as well.
Plead the Fifth
You should take your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent seriously. After all, talking your way out of a DUI arrest is highly unlikely, and saying anything could be used against you in court and lead to a conviction. When arrested for drugged driving, the best thing you can do is stick to answering only the questions the arresting officer asks. Even then, you have the right to ask the officer whether you have to answer certain questions or not. Save your statements for later, when you have spoken with a good DUI lawyer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle White currently works as the Marketing & Communications specialist at Law Offices of Brian Sloan. Her experiences with DUI cases in the past have inspired her to spread awareness about DUI laws in the United States.