Overall, the offense of driving under the influence of substances (DUI) is related to alcohol intoxication. But alcohol is just one of the many substances that decrease the ability of a person to drive a motor vehicle. Driving under the influence of drugs, including illicit drugs in addition to prescription drugs, can also lead to DUI charges.
Driving having consumed drugs, whether medicinal marijuana legally prescribed or muscle relaxants, it is equally illegal to drive while intoxicated and may also constitute a violation of DUI. The orders of a doctor do not serve as a defense against charges of driving under the influence of drugs.
A 2010 survey by Management Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMHSA) found that in 2009 about 10 million Americans had driven under the influence of illicit drugs. According to a study by the National Security Administration Highway Traffic (NHTSA), more than 18 percent of fatally injured drivers in 2009 had positive results in at least one prescription drug or controlled. Another NHTSA survey found that one in five drivers killed in car crashes in 2009 tested positive for drugs.
Various drugs affect drivers in different ways; but those that decrease the judgment, alertness, concentration and motor skills are considered as dangerous (if not more) than alcohol.
Measurement of drug intoxication
Driving with an alcohol concentration above a certain level in blood, usually 0.08 percent or more, is illegal in all 50 states. The body quickly eliminates alcohol from the body, so it is relatively easy to measure blood alcohol concentration when the vehicle stops. Since breathalyzer tests are fairly accurate readings of 0.0 percent or more often result in a formal guilty plea or conviction on charges of DUI arrest if the vehicle was conducted in accordance with the relevant protocol.
Not so in the case of other drugs.
For example, the psychoactive component of marijuana (THC) can be detected in urine or bloodstream of a person four or five weeks after having consumed and is no way to detect, conclusively, real poisoning at a given time. Cocaine, on the other hand, the body usually is cleaned after only a day or two. NHTSA admitted in a letter to Congress that the current knowledge on drugs other than alcohol is “insufficient to identify the dose limits associated with an increased risk of accidents.”
Some jurisdictions use what is called “drug recognition experts” (DRE), specially trained police officers that follow to determine the specific drug intoxication in driver’s guidelines. DRE carefully examine the eye movements, behavior and other details of a person who indicate influence of drugs. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have programs for Drug Evaluation and Classification to train DRE.
In general, the presence of drugs is measured through a urine or blood sample.
Laws “Per Se” on driving under the influence of drugs
While it is more difficult to prosecute drivers on charges of driving under the influence of drugs compared to alcohol, 15 states have what is known as laws “per se” for driving under the influence of drugs. These DUI laws make it illegal to drive a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of certain drugs in the body of the person.
The 15 states that have laws per se for driving under the influence of drugs are Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Three of these states (Nevada, Ohio and Virginia) have certain limits for the presence of toxic drugs, while 12 other states have a policy of zero tolerance.
North Carolina and South Dakota, on the other hand, consider illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with any detectable amount of an illicit or prohibited drug. In five states (California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas and West Virginia) it is unlawful for certain known drug addicts or drug abusers driving a motor vehicle.
Effects of various illegal drugs poisoning
- Marijuana: relaxation, euphoria, disorientation, impaired perception of time and space, drowsiness, paranoia, image distortion, increased heart rate.
- Cocaine: euphoria, excitement, dizziness, increased concentration and alertness (initially), confusion and disorientation, irritability, paranoia, aggression, increased heart rate.
- Methamphetamine: euphoria, excitement, hallucinations, delusions, insomnia, poor impulse control, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure.
- Morphine and heroin: intense euphoria, drowsiness, relaxation, sedation, disconnection, drowsiness, analgesia, depression, heart rate, nausea and vomiting, decreased reflexes.
- LSD: hallucinations, altered mental status, delusions, decreased depth perception, time and space, hypertension, tremors.
Some drugs that are bought legally in a pharmacy, whether prescribed by a doctor or over the counter, can be just as dangerous for drivers as alcohol and may result in a DUI. Look for warning labels and consult your pharmacist if you have doubts about the ability of drug intoxication.
The following are some counter drugs and prescription intoxicating common drivers:
- Antidepressants: some antidepressants cause sedative similar to driving while intoxicated intoxication.
- Valium: 10 mg of popular tranquilizer can cause similar to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent poisoning.
- Antihistamines: many of them affect the reaction time and coordination.
- Decongestants: OTC many decongestants can cause drowsiness, dizziness and anxiety.
- Sleeping pills: even in the morning, the residual effects of these drugs can affect the driver.
- Hydrocodone: the common painkiller, the main component of Vicodin, is similar to opioids and causes comparable to that of morphine and codeine intoxication (oxycodone has similar effects).
Drivers who live in states that allow medicinal use of marijuana with a valid recommendation from a doctor can also receive a DUI charge. Therefore, if the officer or the drug recognition expert has gathered sufficient evidence of intoxication with marijuana, you cannot claim a medical exception as a defense. In this sense, medical marijuana is not different from other drugs prescribed on the potential of poisoning.
Consult an attorney specializing in DUI
If you or a family member is arrested for DUI, you may need the services of an experienced DUI lawyer. An attorney who specializes in defending DUI charges evaluate all the evidence, including the procedure and the results of field sobriety tests and chemical substances, to ensure that their rights are protected. It is also important to talk to a doctor familiar with the laws of your jurisdiction lawyer. Most offer free consultations, so your first step should be to contact a lawyer specializing in DUI.