Everyone knows that drinking and driving can result in a DUI/OWI if you are "over the limit." But you may be less sure about driving under the influence of drugs. How do they measure "drugged driving"? How do they know if it was a legal or illegal substance?
Any drugs in your system - even prescription medications - can result in criminal charges. It's not so much about illegal drugs as whether the driver's judgment and ability to operate a vehicle are impaired. The penalties are the same as for a drunk driving conviction.
All drugs are treated equally in terms of impaired driving
You can face criminal charges for drugged driving for any drug as long as you are impaired by it. This includes illegal drugs like marijuana, but it also includes prescribed and over-the-counter medications you may be taking. Even commonly used antihistamines could lead to these charges because they can make a person drowsy and out of sorts.
You should read the warnings on any medications to determine if there is a possibility that they will hinder your ability to drive safely. If the label warns about drowsiness or operating a motor vehicle, avoid taking it if you know you will be behind the wheel. Driving after taking an illegal drug is a very bad idea, for several reasons.
Testing for drugs is not yet easy or reliable
Police have proven methods to test for alcohol in a driver's system. There is no comparable "Drugalyzer" test for driving under the influence of drugs. A blood or urine sample can reveal the presence of drugs, yet there are several problems with this:
- There is no roadside test for drugs. Police need other evidence to arrest you and have your blood drawn at the station.
- Unlike alcohol, there is no specific threshold for drug impairment. The allowable amount would be different for every drug.
- A blood test doesn't indicate when the drug was taken. Marijuana (THC) stays in the bloodstream for several days after the intoxicating effects wear off.
For these reasons, drug impairment is treated differently under the law than alcohol impairment. You can be charged with driving under the influence for any amount of a controlled substance in your system. However, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to take you into custody and request a drug test. This might be erratic driving behavior, a perceptible odor of marijuana, bloodshot eyes, or other observed signs of impairment.
You must plan your defense
Anyone who is facing charges of driving under impairment of drugs needs a well-considered defense strategy. Many of the possibilities are the same as drunk driving, but the unreliability of drug testing might come into the picture. It is imperative that you consider all options that apply to your case. Let your legal representative know everything you can remember about the traffic stop and subsequent events. You never know which seemingly minor detail might open up a possibility for your defense.