Drugged Driving DUIs: Prescriptions Count Too

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 05, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth of July holiday means an extra-long weekend for many Americans. Unfortunately, with a sparkly sky and tasty BBQ also comes a disturbing amount of drugged driving. While most people associate DUIs with boozin' and cruisin', also remember not to get behind the wheel if you've been popping prescription pills.

Some drugs legally purchased at a pharmacy, whether they're prescribed by a doctor or bought over the counter, can be just as dangerous for drivers as alcohol, and can also result in a DUI arrest.

Here are some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can impair your ability to drive and lead to a DUI:

  • Antidepressants. Some sedating antidepressants cause impairment similar to drunken driving.
  • Valium. Just 10 mg of the popular tranquilizer can cause impairment similar to having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent.
  • Antihistamines. Many of them slow reaction time and impair coordination.
  • Decongestants. Many over-the-counter decongestants can cause drowsiness, anxiety and dizziness.
  • Sleeping pills. Even after you wake up, the residual effects of these drugs can leave you impaired for hours.
  • Hydrocodone. This common pain reliever, the main component of Vicodin, is similar to opiates and causes impairment similar to morphine and codeine (oxycodone has similar effects).

Many states have zero-tolerances policies for driving under the influence of substances other than alcohol -- even prescription medications, if they impair your ability to drive. Even states without zero-tolerance drugged-driving laws may still subject you to a field sobriety test.

Make sure to follow labels that advise taking the medication with food, and remember that mixing prescription medication with alcohol can sometimes be a dangerous combination.

Before you get behind the wheel this weekend, look at warning labels or ask your pharmacist if you're not sure whether your prescription pill can impair your driving.

Better yet, play it safe by sitting in the back seat -- even if all you had was some Benadryl that made you sleepy.

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