Getting A Dui From Over-The-Counter Or Prescription Drugs

Most everyone knows that you can be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) when driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal controlled substances such as marijuana or methamphetamines however it is less well known that use of common over-the-counter and prescription medications could also result in a DUI. In the midst of flu season and with hay fever season just around the corner it is good time to remind drivers that commonly prescribed or over-the-counter medications can have just as great an impact on your driving abilities as alcohol. Driving under the influence means just that; any drug, legal or illegal, that causes side effects such as dizziness, incoherence, drowsiness, and loss of muscle coordination, can impair your driving to the point that you could possibly be charged with DUI.

Since the officer on the scene can’t possibly test for every type of drug, the officer’s basic responsibility is to determine whether or not the driver has the physical capabilities to safely control a motor vehicle. If, in the opinion of the officer, the driver is impaired for whatever reason, the officer will make an arrest for DUI and let the courts sort out the details later on. The impact on the driver can be disastrous.

It isn’t possible to list all the drugs in one article but a list of some of the most commonly used drugs and their side effects may alert you to the dangers involved.

Cold/allergy medications – Side effects of cold and allergy medications such as Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, and Dimetapp can cause:

Drowsiness
Inability to concentrate
Disturbed coordination
Increased anxiety
Dizziness

These medications should only be taken at night or when you know you will not be driving. Even medications that are advertised as non-drowsy formulas such as Claritin can, in rare instances, cause dizziness and vertigo.

Pain medications – Side effects of common pain medications such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Tylenol) and Naproxen (Aleve) can include:
Dizziness
Drowsiness

Tranquilizers/Sedatives/Anti-depressants – Even though prescribed, these drugs present a danger to drivers who use them. 10 mg. of Valium causes effects that are roughly equal to a blood alcohol content of 0.10 (0.08 is legally drunk in all states). The popular sleep medication Ambien has caused users to drive and perform other tasks with no memory of those actions after the effects of the drug have worn off.

Other Drugs – Medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and ulcers can also cause drowsiness and dizziness in some instances.

All of these drugs serve a legitimate medical purpose and, in most instances, have little adverse effect on the user but, even though a drug has not had an adverse effect in the past, the severity of a condition and other factors may combine to cause a severe impact on a driver. Medications combined with even a small amount of alcohol can have a dramatic effect. When taking a new medication, ask your doctor to explain the side effects and wait until you know how the drug will affect you before you attempt to drive.   Read more about driver and vehicle safety at the National Safety Commission Driver Alerts.

Dave Herron works for the National Safety Commission as a driver safety educator and trainer. He contributes to the weekly Driver Safety Alerts and develops driver safety courses.