Everyone knows that driving while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs isn’t just dangerous, it’s against the law. But what about prescription medications that your doctor says you should be taking?
Most people can’t stop driving simply because they are taking a new drug for health reasons. It’s not uncommon for older adults to be taking multiple prescription drugs at one time. Although drivers over 65 are the least likely to be involved in an alcohol related crash, they are also most likely to be taking multiple medications on a daily basis.
While laws differ from state to state, it’s important to know that you can get a dui from taking legal prescription medications. If you get behind the wheel, it’s crucial that you understand how prescription drugs can affect your driving and what you can do to prevent an accident.
Driving While Taking Prescription Drugs: What Are The Risks?
When your doctor writes a much needed prescription to address a sinus infection that just won’t quit, chances are you’re relieved and ready to be on your way and start feeling better. But taking prescription drugs affects everyone differently and drivers must take extra care to ensure that they are not driving under the influence of a legal drug that will impair them on the road.
Check the Side Effects
It’s not just sleep medications and other drugs that slow you down either; stimulants can make it difficult for drivers to judge distances and encourage risk taking. Some of the most common prescription drugs that affect driving include:
- Pain medications
- High blood pressure drugs and diuretics
The problem doesn’t stop with considering how a single drug will affect you. Drivers also must consider interactions between multiple prescription drugs they may be taking, as well as how those medications will be affected by over the counter drugs. It’s also important to think about homeopathic remedies and herbal supplements because these can also cause side effects and unexpected interactions with prescription and OTC drugs. Because these supplements are often not regulated, dosage and side effects can vary widely.
Can you get a DUI for prescription drugs?
This can be a complicated question but the short answer is yes, you can get a DUI simply from taking legal drugs. Prescription drugs and driving laws are different in every state but lawmakers are working to ensure that people who drive impaired, regardless of the substance, will face the consequences.
There are two basic types of state laws on driving while intoxicated. Some states look to whether the driver is “incapable” of driving or is “under the influence or affected by an intoxicating drug.” Other states use the “per say” definition, or per se, meaning that having any controlled or illegal substance in your system will be considered impaired. These rules are also called “zero tolerance” laws.
Impairment by prescription and OTC drugs creates special problems for law enforcement. You can’t test for prescription impairment the same way you test for alcohol and even using blood tests public safety officials have to consider that prescription drugs affect each person differently. Most states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana have implied consent laws which mean that when you get behind the wheel you are implicitly consenting to testing for drug and alcohol if an accident occurs. Even states such as Alabama that do not have implied consent laws will still require testing in serious or fatal accidents.
Different Folks, Different Strokes
But even when a legal prescription drug is in a person’s system, whether this will rise to the level of driving while impaired will be up to the experts. Each state defines prohibited substances differently. For example, in these states the type of drugs prohibited are defined as:
ALABAMA: A controlled substance or any substance which impairs mental or physical faculties.
ARKANSAS: A drug, substance or immediate precursor listed in Schedules I through VI (Section 5-64-101-215)
MISSISSIPPI: Any substance other than intoxicating liquor that causes impairment, any illegal drug or controlled substance
LOUISIANA: Virtually all controlled substances in Schedules I, II, III, IV and V, prescription and OTC medications
Even if it is more difficult for prosecutors to prove that a driver was impaired by a prescription drug or a combination of Rx and OTC drugs, that does not mean they aren’t willing to try. This is especially when drivers mix more than one drug, ignore warning labels, exceed the dosage, or take a controlled substance without a valid prescription.
Impairment is Impairment
Moreover, even if a driver impaired by legal medications avoids criminal consequences, this evidence can be used in a lawsuit against the driver to prove their impairment caused the accident. So while the issue of driving under the influence of drugs is more complicated when the drugs are legal, it is crucial that drivers be aware of the dangers and the consequences.
Fact Check: What is the difference between DUI and DWI?
It depends on the state. Some states use just one term for all impaired driving. Other states use DWI to refer to alcohol intoxication and DUI for driving while impaired by other drugs. OWI and OUI are similar abbreviations used in some states. Regardless of the letters, the important thing to take away is that someone charged with any of these offenses is facing serious consequences.
Tips for Reducing the Risk of Mixing Prescription Medications and Driving
There are several things drivers can do to avoid a DUI prescription drugs. Most importantly, drivers must talk to their doctors. Not only should people be asking their doctors and pharmacists about their medications, but these professionals need to know every OTC and herbal supplement you are taking to fully explain any possible drug interactions.
Here are some additional tips for ensuring you stay both healthy and safe on the road:
- Read the fine print on all medications and OTC drugs and supplements. This will help you fully understand the side effects and any possible interactions.
- Avoid driving when you are taking a new medication until you know how it will affect you.
- Talk to your doctor about changing the timing of your medication to before bed if you are concerned about how a drug will affect you.
- As much as possible, try to see one doctor and go to the same pharmacy. This will help ensure that all your providers are on the same page about the medications you are taking and how they interact.
Have you or someone you love been injured by an impaired driver?
If you were injured in an accident and suspect the other driver was impaired by prescription drugs, contact us for a free case evaluation. These claims require specific evidence to prove that the drug caused the accident. We will work with you on a contingency-fee basis to gather this evidence and prove your case. You may be eligible to file a claim for medical costs, emotional distress and further damages. Fill out our free case evaluation form to see if you are eligible for a claim. An experienced motor vehicle accident attorney at Morris Bart will assist you in the evaluation process. Initial consultations are free. We have office locations throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. Call us at 1-800-537-8185 today.