Motorists tend to have a general assumption that legal drugs cannot lead to DUI charges. Contrary to this popular opinion, some legal drugs have severe side effects like drowsiness that can affect drivers. This is why state legislatures try to make the boundaries surrounding DUI laws as unambiguous as possible.

The California vehicle code 23152(f) provides that it is unlawful for anyone to operate motor vehicles while under the influence of drugs and (g) while under the influence of combined drugs and alcohol. We have already covered a lot on DUIs relating to illegal drugs like cocaine, but does the same law apply to medical drugs that one can obtain legally from a prescription or over the counter from a pharmacy?

Yes. To begin with, we should start by defining what a drug is according to CVC 23152(f) and (g). The CVC defines a drug as any “substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, that could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person that it would appreciably impair his or her ability to drive as an ordinarily cautious person, in full possession of his or her faculties and using reasonable care, would drive under similar circumstances.” This legal definition expands the scope of DUI-related crimes to drugs which one has acquired legally, including marijuana.

Legal Drugs that Cause Impairment

Knowing that legal drugs have the capacity to cause impairment and possibly lead to DUI charges is the first step in avoiding a DUI conviction. Drugs that have been known to have significant effects on one’s cognitive, motor, and sensory skills include pain relievers like morphine and codeine.

These are potent opiate drugs that work primarily by attaching themselves to nerves in the brain and body and block pain by igniting a feeling of calmness and happiness. Opiate drugs are only prescribed to patients with severe and unbearable pain because the effects are known to cause addiction.

Other common drugs that fall into our list include cold and allergy drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and antihypertensives. Most of these have chemicals that may lead to drowsiness and sluggish mobility. If you feel like these drugs could limit your daily performance, it is best to consult with your doctor on other options with non-drowsy effects.

This one may surprise you! The type of drug that could land you a DUI is a stimulant drug. Many people are familiar with the perks of having caffeine in the body: it gets your brain working quickly. Stimulants like these make you more impetuous and hyperactive. This sounds good when you need to clear the grogginess out of your mind early in the morning, but a little too much from your caffeinated pills and energy drink could limit your ability to drive safely.

How do Police know If I’m Under the Influence or Not?

Hypothetically, California doesn’t exactly have a legal “limit” for drugs in your system other than alcohol. This makes it hard even for experts to agree on the level one should be deemed incapable of operating a vehicle. However, if an officer is suspicious about the state of your mind, he or she will try to determine the level of your impairment using one or several steps such as:

  • Asking you questions about your alcohol use and your history with drugs
  • They may ask the driver to take a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test from a breathalyzer
  • Asking the driver to perform a series of field sobriety tests
  • Checking for physical symptoms of impairment such as bloodshot eyes, sluggish movement, etc.
  • Checking for the presence of any visible drugs within your car

Moreover, even if your BAC is below the limit, a suspicious officer may go a step further and call a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to carry out a drug impairment evaluation. Luckily, you don’t have to take these tests as we talked about in our articleWhat to Do If You Are Pulled Over for a DUI.

Protecting yourself from Possible DUI Charges with Legal Drugs

Now that you know what drugs can lead to DUI charges, you should also understand how to protect yourself from DUI charges. A DUI conviction carries very heavy penalties that can impede your education (college degree), your license to practice your job, or your privilege to a driver’s license. Here are a few tips to protect you from legal drug DUIs:

  1. Always ask about drug side effects from your doctor or pharmacist. You should also read the labels that come on the packaging.
  2. Be sure to list down all the meds you are taking to your doctor during your consultation. This is especially important since not all drugs interact well with each other.
  3. Only take drugs at the prescribed dosage. Taking beneath the dosage can be ineffective, and anything more might have severe side effects.
  4. Do not mix alcohol with drugs.
  5. Finally, if you can, always check for possible symptoms before going behind the wheel. This might be hard to follow through since each drug has a different reaction time and everyone’s metabolism is different. Learn how your body responds to the drugs before driving.

All DUI’s are scary and involve a long legal process to resolve. By being aware of what drugs you’re taking and the side effects, you can minimize impairment and your chances of landing a drug DUI charge. Nevertheless, the system isn’t perfect, and you may just be that unlucky driver. We urge anyone facing any kind of DUI charge to reach out to The DUI Attorney, Criminal Defense Hero, Don Hammond for the expert legal representation in California.