Can I get a DWI for over-the-counter medication?

| Aug 27, 2020 | Criminal Defense

It has happened to almost every driver. You fall ill the night before and decide to take medication to alleviate the symptoms or sleep better. The label warns that it might make you drowsy or otherwise impaired, but you are not worried because you intend to go to bed. When you wake the following morning, you feel groggy but decide you are well enough to go to work. Unfortunately, you might not be as well as you thought.

Most people make it to their destination with few mishaps, but there are many others who might get a ticket for driving while impaired. If the impairment is especially serious or led to property damage and injury, law enforcement might make an arrest and impound the vehicle. Yet, all you took were antihistamines or OTC sleep medication, so what now?

Substances responsible for impairment

The NHTSA reminds drivers that any substance that impairs an individual can pose threats to other road users. Because of this, law enforcement often has some leeway to determine impairment, even when an individual passes a breathalyzer test and tests negative for controlled substances.

It adds that even over-the-counter drugs can lead to dizziness, sleepiness and other side effects that can make safe driving impossible. If the medication warns against operating heavy machinery while taking it, it generally falls into this category. The NHTSA considers driving your vehicle to fall under the header of operating heavy machinery.

Options available in these instances

Police officers, prosecutors and the court may have some discretion in how to handle cases like this, especially for seniors and people with documented illnesses. If there were no casualties, then this might increase the possibility of a favorable outcome. However, if driving impaired led to injuries, disabilities, death or major property damage, the court may feel the need to take a stronger approach.