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Are Medications More Dangerous to Driving than Alcohol?


Everyone knows that driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous and illegal in California as well as every other state in the union. However, driving under the influence of drugs - including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications - can be every bit as dangerous or even more so. It can also result in serious DUI charges.

Whether it is a muscle relaxer or medical marijuana, an antihistamine known to cause drowsiness or a judgement impairing pain killer, there is no excuse for driving under the influence of drugs, not even your doctor's orders. Medical professionals should explain the side effects of drugs they prescribe, but the very often don't. Every medication comes packaged with that information and it is every patient's responsibility to read it as well as understand the side effects of a medicine he or she is using.

Different drugs can affect drivers differently. For example, an antihistamine may make one person sleepy and another hyper. Further, drugs known for impairing judgement, concentration, motor skills or causing sleepiness are considered as dangerous as alcohol or worse. Combining drugs and alcohol or prescription drugs with over the counter drugs can greatly exacerbate the effects on a person's driving ability, often unpredictably.

Some Legal Drugs That Can Impair Driving

Aside from the illegal drugs such as cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine and hallucinogens such as LSD, there are many commonly prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medications (OTC) that can be every bit as dangerous. Before driving any vehicle, it is a user's responsibility to ask the pharmacist or check drug labeling for the drugs ability to cause impairment. There are also several websites that will search drug interactions which may be dangerous.

Some types of common prescription and OTC medications that can impair driving ability:

· Antihistamines: Many of these medications, used to relieve swelling from colds and allergies, can impair coordination and slow reaction times.

· Antidepressants: Several sedative-type antidepressants can cause impairment that closely mimics drunken driving.

· Valium: Only a 10-mg dose of the well-known tranquilizer can cause impairment like a 0.10 blood alcohol content. In combination with only a single alcoholic drink the effects can be devastating.

· Decongestants: There are several OTC decongestants on the market that are well known for causing drowsiness, dizziness and anxiety.

· Oxycodone and hydrocodone: Both common pain relievers bear similarities to opiates and cause similar impairments.

· Sleeping Pills: The residual effects of these drugs can last hours after a person is awake in the morning and driving to work.

· Medical Marijuana: Medical marijuana is treated as any other prescription or OTC drug regarding impairment while driving. Because THC, the active ingredient can be detected in the blood several days after use, there is no scientific evidence to determine at what level impairment occurs. However other evidence can be used such as a half smoked joint found in your possession and erratic driving.

California's Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Laws

California defines "drugs" as any substance other than alcohol that could affect a person's nervous system, brain or muscles. This can include drugs in all three categories: Illegal, prescription and over-the counter medications. California Vehicle Code 23152(e) states "It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle." Vehicle Code 23152(f) states "It is unlawful for any person who is under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug to drive a vehicle."

If a person drives under the influence of drugs, especially if impaired enough and is no longer able to drive like a sober person, he or she can be legally charged with driving under the influence of drugs, regardless if the drugs are legal or not. The penalties for DUID are the same as for driving under the influence of alcohol in California. The penalty will include probation for 3 to 5 years, fines totaling around $1800 for a first offense, possible jail time in some counties and driver's license suspension. Subsequent offenses carry even harsher penalties. A fourth or greater offense can be treated as a felony which will be on a person's criminal record for life.

DUID Legal Defense

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol is a serious matter affecting a person financially, professionally and personally for a very long time. Jobs may be lost, marriages can be broken, insurance surcharges and fines can be devastating, and at the very worst, lives can be lost. These cases require the skills of an experienced DUI lawyer. Without proper legal representation, a person charged with DUI stands little chance of acquittal.

A DUI defense lawyer may use one or more of many defenses in the case including:

· The driver was not actually under the influence of drugs.

· The driver was exhausted or anxious or had some other innocent physical condition that was mistaken for drug impairment

· The collection, storage and/or analysis of the drivers blood or urine samples was not in compliance with California's title 17 procedures that regulate these methods.

If you or someone you care for has been charged in California with driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both, this is a very serious matter. Contact a California DUI attorney right away. There is too much at stake. 

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