Driving with prescription drugs: Why being impaired with it is illegal

Generally, it’s illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

But do you know that “drugs” under these laws refer to legal drugs as well?

Let’s discuss why driving with prescription drugs in your system can be illegal and how you can stay safe and avoid DUI charges.

Why is driving with prescription drugs illegal in Utah?

If a police officer stops you because you drove too slowly, too quickly, or in an unusual manner, you’re looking at a possible DUI arrest!

Can you possibly be charged just by driving slowly or differently? The answer is yes!

When an officer asks you to pull over, you must stop your vehicle right away, as failure to respond to such a request is a felony.

Then, the police officer observes and evaluates your condition.

If the officer has “probable cause” to believe you are driving with prescription drugs, illegal ones, or alcohol, such as slurred speech or an inability to hold eye contact, the officer may arrest you. Once you’re under arrest, Utah law requires you to take a chemical test of your blood, saliva or urine to determine your Blood Alcohol Content. A BAC of 0.05% or higher will lead to a DUI charge.

If you refuse these tests, your license is automatically suspended. You receive a temporary permit for 29 days, and must go to a hearing to challenge the suspension. 

Now, if you tested positive for barbiturates, cannabinoids, narcotic analgesics, opioids, and other legal drugs and disclosed that you’re currently taking prescription drugs, will the police officer let you go?

Unfortunately, no, for two reasons:

  1. You have metabolites or an amount/level of drugs in your blood, and
  2. You are driving.

Saying that you’re on a prescription doesn’t give you permission to drive a vehicle, especially if the drug affects your ability to drive safely. 

Common side effects of prescription drugs

Let’s say you’re having trouble sleeping, and you take an Ambien. This drug may have side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and drowsiness in the morning, which can cause you to suddenly fall asleep while driving. If an officer believes this drug has made you incapable of safely operating your vehicle, you will be arrested for a DUI. 

Delayed reflexes, poor motor skills and judgment, difficult or labored breathing, changes in heartbeat, hallucinations, shivering, and muscle stiffness may be caused by the following prescription drugs: 

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Percocet
  • Zoloft
  • Cold/cough syrup
  • Antihistamines/Decongestants

If your driving is impaired by these or other drugs, prescribed or not, it can result in a DUI charge.

In such a situation, it’s crucial to have a lawyer who can help you form your defense. For a free consultation, you can reach us at 801-709-6309.

State laws and regulations on impaired driving with prescription drugs

Utah’s Traffic Code 41-6a-502 states that you must not operate a vehicle while under the influence of prescription drugs.

If this is your first offense, you can be convicted of a Class B misdemeanor, which will incur a fine of up to $1,000, and spend up to 6 months in jail.

Driving with prescription drugs a passenger under 16 is a Class A misdemeanor and can result in a maximum one-year sentence and $2,500 fine.

Meanwhile, causing an accident for another can be classified as a third-degree felony and carries up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

These charges are not absolute. Other factors that contribute to the severity of your penalties are:

  • Past drug convictions
  • Use or possession of firearms
  • Rehabilitation efforts
  • Involvement of minors or minors in the vehicle
  • Type of prescription drug(s) involved 

In some cases of Class B or C misdemeanors, you have the option of performing compensatory service instead of paying fines, while other charges can result in license suspension.

How can you stay safe and avoid being charged with impaired driving with prescription drugs?

Talking to your doctor about your medicines

Here’s the thing you need to remember: Even over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like antihistamines or decongestants can be mind-altering and affect your driving.

That’s why you might want to discuss the side effects of your prescription medicine with your physician or pharmacist. You can also discuss the potential interactions between the drugs you’re taking and other substances. This is to ensure you’re letting yourself take control of the wheel safely.

Understanding the effects of different prescription drugs

Of course, read the label of your medicines. OTC drugs, including herbal supplements and cold medicines, can also have side effects you’re not aware of.

If the information you’re looking for is not available in the packet or box, research the side effects. Fortunately, any information that you might need is also available online. Some medicines may also prohibit you from operating heavy machinery or driving a motor vehicle until you know how your body will react to it.

Why do you need lawyers from  Liberty Law?

This is where the assistance of a lawyer from Liberty Law becomes crucial. Our team can provide support in constructing a strong defense strategy to demonstrate that the consumption of the prescription drug did not affect your driving abilities.

If you want us to help reduce or drop the charges against you if you’re driving with prescription drugs, you may:

We’re available 24/7!