We all know that drinking alcohol and driving intoxicated is illegal. But what about driving after taking medication? Believe it or not, you can get a DWI for driving while under the influence of a legally prescribed medication (even over the counter meds). This is because certain medications can negatively affect your ability to drive safely.
If you are taking any kind of medication (and many of us are), it is important to know how it can affect your driving and land you in hot water with the police.
How do prescription drugs impair driving?
There are many ways that prescription drugs and over the counter (OTC) medications affect your ability to drive. Some of the side effects include:
- Slowed movement
- Inability to focus
- Blurred vision
- Increased heart rate
These side effects can make it difficult to concentrate on driving, see other cars, delay your reaction times, and much more. All of which makes driving on the road more dangerous for you and others.
What are medicines that might affect driving?
Knowing how your medications (or any combination of them) affect your ability to drive is an important safety measure. Some drugs that could make it dangerous to drive include:
- Opioid pain relievers
- Sleeping pills
- Cold medicine
Note that not every medication in the above categories will cause driving impairment. Rather, it depends on the specific drug, dosage and if it is being combined with any other drug or alcohol. It is crucial that you read the warning label on any medication you consume so that you can understand how your body will react to the drug.
Some medicines can affect your driving for only a short period after you take them. For others, the effects can last for several hours, even into the next day.
How do you get a prescription drug DWI charge?
It is not illegal to drive if you are taking prescription medication. But like alcohol, it is illegal if the medication causes you to lose your mental or physical faculties as defined under the Texas Penal Code. Thus, if an officer believes you cannot safely operate your vehicle because you took your medication, you could be facing DWI charges.
Signs that you are under the influence of a prescription drug or OTC medication may not be readily apparent. For example, the officer will not be able to detect a distinct odor emitting from your breath (that is, unless you’ve been drinking alcohol as well). However, police will use other cues to determine your level of impairment such as slurred speech, confusion and disorientation, glassy eyes, and trouble standing/walking.
If an officer suspects you may be intoxicated by a substance other than alcohol, he may request that you submit to the Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). Your performance on these tests will either provide or dispel probable cause for a DWI arrest. Some officers may ask you to submit to additional testing by a drug recognition expert (DRE) who can allegedly pinpoint prescription drug intoxication with greater certainty.
Upon arrest for DWI involving prescription drugs, an officer will request that you provide him with a blood specimen. If you refuse, he will apply for a warrant. By your consent or issuance of a warrant, your blood will be drawn and submitted to the DPS lab for testing.
The results of your lab test show twofold: (1) the type of drug in your system; and (2) the amount of the drug in your system. However, just because the lab indicates a drug is present, does not mean that there is an intoxicating effect. If the state chooses to charge you with a DWI, they must be able to prove that the medication caused intoxication. Oftentimes, this can be a difficult feat for prosecutors; and in turn, serves as a viable defense strategy.
What are the penalties for a prescription drug DWI?
There are a variety of drug classifications that all come with different levels of legal penalties. However, this has no bearing on a prescription drug DWI. Driving under the influence of prescription meds is a Class B misdemeanor regardless of the substance.
A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in county jail and/or a $2,000 fine. You will also be faced with a 180-day driver’s license suspension. And, if you have previous DWI convictions, you could be looking at a felony DWI charge.
How do I avoid a prescription drug DWI?
If you’ve been pulled over and the officer suspects you may be intoxicated, there are general guidelines you should follow.
- Keep Quiet. Do not tell the officer that you’ve taken prescription drugs or medication. Remain silent.
- Do Not Consent to SFSTs. Remember that the SFSTs are never on your side, no matter how “sober” you might feel. Any wrong turn or misstep can be construed as intoxication and provide probable cause to arrest you for DWI.
- Do Not Take a Blood Test. A blood test is likely to identify the drugs that you’ve taken, which can make it an incriminating piece of evidence in court. Even if an officer threatens to obtain a warrant, there are more issues to challenge in this capacity than if you were to consent.
- Do Not Carry Your Prescriptions. If an officer finds your prescription bottle in the vehicle, he may use that as probable cause for your DWI.
- Take Your Charge Seriously. You do not want a DWI on your record for driving under the influence of cold medicine.
A prescription drug DWI conviction can have life-altering consequences. If you’ve been pulled over and charged with a prescription drug DWI, speak to an attorney who knows how to fight these charges and keep them from upending your life. If you’d like to speak more about prescription drug DWIs, contact me today.