Driving offenses related to being “under the influence” are not just reserved for people who’ve consumed too much alcohol or taken recreational drugs. In New York and New Jersey, police officers can charge you with a DUI even if the substance in your system is perfectly legal.

In fact, you can be charged even if the medication you took was prescribed by your doctor.

The law applies to over-the-counter pharmaceuticals as well as drugs prescribed by your physician, even if you’ve taken no more than the recommended dose.

DUI Charges for Prescription Medications

You may be surprised to learn that the punishment for a DWAI in New York or a DUI in New Jersey is similar to the penalties for alcohol or drug driving offenses.

That is to say – you could face jail time, hefty fines, license suspension, or drug counseling. The more serious your offense, the heavier the penalties can get.

New York DWAI Charges – Driving While Ability Impaired

If you get pulled over and charged with driving under the influence of prescription medication in New York, the specific offense you’ll face is Driving While Ability Impaired or DWAI.

This is a different offense than drinking and driving, which falls under DWI. It’s not the substance itself that’s an issue – it’s the fact that your focus and reaction times are impaired.

New Jersey DUI Charges – Driving Under the Influence

In New Jersey, the charge for being under the influence of prescription drugs is classified the same as a DUI (Driving Under the Influence). This means you could be charged under exactly the same laws that apply to those who are drunk or have taken illegal substances.  If you’re suspected of being under the influence, a police officer can ask you to take a blood or urine test to check which substances are in your system and at what concentration.

When Can You Drive on Prescription Medication?

Is it legal to drive after taking prescription drugs? That depends on whether your prescription medication impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle while you’re driving.

That’s right – in the case of prescription or over-the-counter drugs, the law is not automatically broken just because a blood or urine test shows that you have it in your system.

With medications, there’s no minimum blood alcohol content (BAC) level like there is with alcohol, where the result of the test alone is enough to lead to a criminal offense. 

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t break the law. 

To “safely operate” a vehicle, you must be alert and able to react to the conditions of the road, the weather, and any hazards. If the actual effects of your medication make you unable to safely operate a car, you could be charged even if you’ve taken the smallest possible dose.

The outcome of your case ultimately comes down to the definition of “impaired.”

When Does a Prescription Medication Make You Impaired?

The truth is, whether a person is considered “impaired” or not is subjective. Five different people could well have five different opinions on where exactly the line is crossed. 

A police officer may use the following examples to argue that you’re impaired: 

  • Slurred speech 
  • Acting tired or sleepy 
  • Unfocused eyes
  • Shaky hands
  • Being unstable on your feet

You could get a DWI charge if the arresting police officer witnessed these behaviors along with unsafe driving, such as weaving in and out of lanes or running intersections. You could face worse consequences if you’re actually involved in a collision or accident.

How to Stay Safe When Driving and Using Prescription Drugs

Based on the characteristics outlined above, the best way to keep yourself safe when driving is to carefully analyze the prescription drug that you are taking. 

  • Make sure that you read all of the potential side effects of your prescription carefully.
  • Understand the effects that your prescription can have on your body and state of mind.
  • Consider how these effects could affect your ability to drive safely.
  • When starting a new prescription drug that might impair your cognitive ability, wait at least 24 hours, ideally 48, before driving.

One warning that should catch your eye is if your pill bottle warns you not to operate heavy machinery. After all, cars are very large machines.

It goes without saying that if you’re taking more than one prescription drug, you also need to understand the side effects when the drugs are taken together. 

Your doctor can provide you with the information you need to make the best decision for you. You should also ask your doctor whether they believe it would be appropriate for you to drive.

You are the best judge of how your body reacts to a particular drug. However, you should give your body adequate time to actually react so that your assessment can be based on fact. Leaving time after taking a new drug also means you can assess how long any side effects last. Every person reacts and metabolizes substances differently.

When Should I Contact a Lawyer for a DWI?

As you can see, there is no black and white rule when it comes to what is acceptable when driving under the influence of prescription drugs. In many cases, the issue of impairment comes down to the police officer’s testimony against yours.

But the truth is that the prosecution has a high bar to meet in prescription drug cases. They have to show beyond reasonable doubt that your ability was impaired. That’s not easy. But you do need a great lawyer to help you analyze the evidence to your advantage.

As soon as you can make a phone call, you should contact an attorney who specializes in representing clients against DUI charges in New Jersey and New York. A DWI lawyer can help you identify the best legal arguments in your defense. Schedule a no-risk case consultation now with the DWI lawyers at The Kugel Law Firm. You can reach us at our New York offices at (212) 372-7218 and our New Jersey offices at (973) 854-0098.