Legal Drugs and DUIs

Attorney Doug Lauenstein discusses the dangers of legal drugs in relation to DUI and DWIs.

When we hear the terms DUI and DWI, we generally think of alcohol and illegal drugs. It is important to remember that these are not the only causes of DUI or DWI charges. Drugs that are perfectly legal often go overlooked by drivers as a hazard. Understand that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are treated the same way in court as illegal drugs and alcohol are.

There are two main elements of a DUI or DWI. The first is the fact that a person is driving a vehicle, driving in Maryland means to drive, operate, move or be in actual physical control of a vehicle, including the exercise of control over or the steering of a vehicle being towed by a motor vehicle. The second element is that at the same time, that person was under the influence or intoxicated, meaning that his or her ability to drive safely was affected by either alcohol, drugs or some combination of the two.

What many do not realize is that the use of prescriptions and over-the-counter medicine can lead to impaired driving and arrest. Someone affected by narcotics, even if legally prescribed, can be found guilty and punished for driving while under the influence in the same way as any drunk driver.

An example: a father is getting ready for work one morning. The night before, he had taken his usual antidepressant medication in addition to a pill for allergies. Both pills cause drowsiness. In the morning, he has a severe headache so he takes a few low-dose prescription pills that also cause drowsiness. This medication, however, contains a warning that one should not operate a vehicle or other machinery after taking it. He kisses his family goodbye and gets on the road. He fails to notice a truck at a four-way stop and crashes into it. Even if by a stroke of luck no one is seriously injured, this father of two is facing a life-changing DWI charge.

Although this case may seem extreme, similar situations occur frequently. According to MADD, someone is injured as a result of drunk or drugged driving every two minutes.

Drugs, legal or not, may affect driving skills in a variety of ways. They can affect nerves and muscles, and thus the motor skills needed for steering, braking and accelerating of a vehicle. Drugs slow down reaction times and lead to delayed responses. They may also have cognitive effects that can hinder a driver’s ability to assess risks and hazards. Some drugs make it difficult to focus and process information while others affect physical vision and make it extremely dangerous for someone to drive.

Unfortunately, the standards for how much of any given drug can be in someone’s system without causing impairment are not yet decided. There is no comparable standard to the 0.08% maximum set for blood alcohol levels. For now, it is advisable to steer clear of legal drugs altogether when driving.

Driving is a very serious responsibility, sometimes described as “a team sport played with strangers.” You are accountable not only for your own safety and well-being, but for that of anyone else on the road as well. By understanding the dangers of illegal and legal drugs, you stand a better chance of avoiding a fateful mistake that could change your life forever.

For more information on misdemeanor DUI and DWI charges, contact Doug Lauenstein at