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Can You Get a DUI While Taking Prescription Drugs?

When most people hear the letters “DUI“, they immediately think of a driver who’s had three vodka martinis, has just left the parking lot of a bar and is recklessly speeding down a narrow suburban road. This image is not entirely accurate, however, because even if you never touch alcohol, you can still be charged with a DUI.

How legal prescription drug use can lead to a DUI charge

Do you take antidepressant medications? What about allergy medications? These and other common and entirely legal drugs may cause drowsiness and sudden dizziness, two side effects that can have disastrous consequences on the road.

Imagine that you’ve just taken your prescription and left for work. As you approach an intersection, your drug-induced drowsiness prevents you from seeing a car crossing to your right, and you slam into it.

You may not realize it, but you’ve just committed a DUI.

The definition of a DUI

A charge of driving under the influence isn’t restricted to alcohol and drug use. DUI and DWI charges can apply to any drug that significantly reduces a driver’s reaction time or impairs his driving abilities. If a prescription drug causes drowsiness, dizziness, or any other side effect that impairs driving ability, it falls into this category.

The uncertainties of legal drug DUI charges

DUI and DWI laws were originally tailored to punish and deter drunk driving. Indeed, it’s difficult to argue that someone who has just had a few drinks isn’t being irresponsible when he gets behind the wheel. More importantly, alcoholic intoxication is easy to measure. Roadside breath and blood tests can quickly and easily determine a driver’s blood alcohol content.

Intoxication caused by legal drug use, on the other hand, is impossible to measure reliably. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has admitted the difficulties inherent in understanding, dealing with and preventing legal drug DUIs.

Avoiding a legal drug DUI charge

If you’re a conscientious person and a responsible driver, there’s no reason you should have to suffer the dire consequences of a DUI. Fortunately, there are a few simple precautions you can take to avoid a legal drug DUI charge.

  • Check your prescriptions for possible side effects. Medications that fall under the DUI/DWI definition of an intoxicating or impairing drug should bear warnings such as “Do not take before operating a vehicle.”
  • If possible, alter your medication schedule to fit around your driving schedule or vice versa so that you never have to drive while under the effects of your prescription drug.
  • Talk to your doctor about alternative medications that don’t cause drowsiness, dizziness or other potentially dangerous side effects.

Legal drug DUI charges are increasingly common in the U.S. If you take medications that make you a less responsive driver, don’t risk losing your insurance and your license. Talk to your doctor and take the appropriate precautions before unnecessarily putting yourself at risk while on the road.

This article was contributed by Brett A. Podolsky. Mr. Podolsky is a veteran criminal attorney in Houston. He is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has practiced law for over 15 years. With his counsel and guidance, numerous clients have successfully been acquitted of their DUI charges. 

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