Last updated: December 4, 2023
So much has been said and written about the dangers of drunk driving, and rightly so. Driving while under the influence of alcohol has already hurt and killed hurt tens of thousands of people over the last few decades. Thankfully, with the intensified public campaign about its dangers and vigorous enforcement of DUI laws, drunk driving fatality rates have been dropping dramatically.
Unfortunately, we cannot say the same of drugged driving.
Drugged driving covers prescription drugs
Drugged driving it’s just as illegal and dangerous as drunk driving but hasn’t gotten the same attention, and that is something that needs to change. Incidents of drugged driving are on the rise, and information about its dangers need to be relayed to the public, particularly drivers who are taking prescription medications on doctor’s orders.
So whether you’re on heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, and other illicit drugs and legally prescribed ones like strong painkillers while behind the wheel, you can be slapped with a DUI in all US states. Only this time, you will be charged with driving under the influence of drugs or DUID.
Side effects of prescription drugs impair driving
One thing most prescription drugs have in common is that many of them have side effects. Even the ones prescribed as maintenance medications for conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease have side effects. They are even more common in strong prescription painkillers, which are typically opioids, which, incidentally, is a class of drugs under which heroin falls as well.
Driving a vehicle safely could prove to be a challenge once the side effects of prescription drugs kick in. Among those adverse effects are dizziness, blurred vision, drowsiness, nausea, and difficulty concentrating.
When drivers on prescription medication experience any of these side effects while driving, they are, in effect, impaired, and therefore posing a danger to other drivers, pedestrians, their passengers, and themselves.
DUI laws make no distinction between alcohol and medications
The DUI laws in most states do not distinguish between alcohol, prescription drugs, or even OTC medications as far as impaired driving is concerned.
Once a police officer suspects you of driving under the influence, you will be asked to pull over, answer several questions, and perform field sobriety tests or FSTs. And if the officer decides that you are, indeed, driving impaired, you will be arrested and charged with a DUI if you are drunk, and a DUID if traces of prescription medication are found in your system.
Your prescription won’t save you in some states
Some drivers believe that as long as they have their actual, written prescription with them when driving, they won’t be charged with a DUID. Alabama will beg to disagree because its laws state that legal entitlement to use a drug is not an acceptable defense to a DUID charge. The same goes for the following states:
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Arizona, home to some of the strictest DUI laws in the US, even has a per se prohibition in effect against drugged driving.
Since drugged driving is inherently illegal in the state, police officers can arrest any driver whom they reasonably suspect of being impaired by prohibited drugs. And with painkilling opioids and anti-anxiety benzodiazepines listed as prohibited substances under Section 13-3401 of the Arizona code, officers can readily arrest drivers on reasonable suspicion that they have these prescription drugs in their bloodstream while operating a vehicle.
Consequences of drugged driving
The punishment for drugged driving may vary from state to state, but just like with DUI, people convicted of DUID face jail sentences, hefty fines, and revocation of their driver’s license, among other things.
It’s also important to keep in mind that a DUID conviction is automatically regarded as a prior or subsequent offense for the purposes of calculating the sentence. Whether or not subsequent offense alcohol or drug-related is immaterial.
Driving safely while on medications is still possible
Just because you’re taking much-needed prescription medications doesn’t mean driving safely is already out of the question. After all, it’s all about the effects they can have on your driving, and that is something you can discuss with your physician who prescribed them to you.
Talk to your doctor about the possible side effects of prescription drugs. Disclose other prescription and OTC medications, as well as any health supplements you might be taking. All that information should allow your physician to get a complete picture of your drug intake and properly advise you about possible interactions and adverse consequences that could affect your driving.
Your doctor can also use that knowledge to adjust your dosage and their frequency and timing, or even change your prescription to something with fewer side effects.