When most people imagine a DUI, they think of someone abusing alcohol or taking illegal drugs, then getting behind the wheel and causing an accident. However, that’s not always the case.
Did you know that even legal drug use (like taking necessary prescription or over-the-counter drugs) can result in a DUI (called an OVI in Ohio) charge?
In Ohio and many other states across the U.S., impaired driving laws are written in such a way that they include legal drug use. As a result, normal, otherwise law-abiding citizens find themselves in trouble for impaired driving—even though it was done unintentionally.
How does this happen?
Ohio OVI law considers whether a person was operating a vehicle and whether he or she was unable to drive safely because of the influence of an alcoholic beverage, drug, or combination of both. Under this law, it’s possible to be arrested for OVI for making an unsafe driving maneuver while taking a prescription drug—even if the two are unrelated.
Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario: it’s spring, and your allergies are acting up. You take the recommended dosage of Benadryl because it best eliminates your allergy symptoms. Also during the day, you take your prescribed high blood pressure medication. Each of these medications makes you a little sleepy, but combined, they interact to make you feel rather tired. On your way home from work, you accidentally rear-end someone at a stop sign. When the police arrive, you apologize profusely and say that you are always a good driver, but the medications you’re on make you drowsy. The police then arrest you for driving while under the influence of drugs.
In this scenario, the arresting officer would say that you admitted to impaired driving. It wouldn’t matter to him or her that many people, including those who take medication and those who don’t, can feel tired while driving. It also wouldn’t matter that your tiredness might not have even been the cause of the accident: your foot might have slipped off the brake, for example. You would face the many severe penalties of an OVI conviction, including a suspended license, heavy fines, and even jail time.
Although the above scenario might seem far-fetched, it actually happens more often than you think. Many medications—including ones for pain management, insomnia, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and even allergies—can cause drowsiness. In fact, drowsiness is one of the most common side effects listed on warning labels. In many cases, people aren’t aware of the effects of taking more than one prescription medication. In other cases, people are pulled over for a different traffic offense, like swerving, and charged with an OVI when admitting that they take prescription drugs.
Unlike driving under the influence of alcohol, which has more clear-cut signs (decreased coordination, slurred speech, the smell of alcohol, and a high blood alcohol content), drugged driving is more difficult to define and prosecute. There are few officers in the U.S. who have received proper training on recognizing impaired driving caused by drug use, according to The New York Times. In addition, the complex chemistry of drugs makes it unreasonable to set legal limits on the level of prescription drugs in the blood: medications effect many people differently, and they can also linger in the blood for weeks after taking them. People who are simply taking their necessary medications as directed could be unfairly punished under such a law.
Many individuals are fighting back against baseless, prescription drug-related DUI charges. In Georgia, DUI charges against a women taking her prescribed medication were recently dismissed after the charges were found to have no merit.
If you take prescription medication, you are, unfortunately, at a higher risk of an OVI. You can reduce your chances of an OVI arrest by doing the following:
- Always take your medication as directed.
- Read the warning label on your medication fully, and talk to your doctor about any activities that you should avoid while taking your prescription.
- Avoid mixing medications unless approved by your doctor.
- Don’t drink alcohol while on your prescription medication.
- If your medication makes you drowsy while driving, try changing the time of day that you take it (unless you are required to take it at a certain time).
If you are facing OVI charges in Ohio, you can fight them. A skilled attorney will work to have the charges dismissed or to effectively represent you during the administrative and criminal proceedings.
The experienced OVI lawyers at Casper & Casper will advocate fiercely for you, in and out of the courtroom. We will fight to help you keep your license and minimize or avoid the penalties of an unjust OVI conviction.