Everyone knows that operating a vehicle while under the influence (OUI) is illegal. However, many people fail to realize that “operating under the influence” does not strictly mean “under the influence of alcohol.” Nearly everyone is aware that “drunk driving” is illegal, and exactly what it means to “drive drunk.” However, fewer people know that “drugged driving” is just as illegal, and even fewer know exactly what it means to “drive drugged.”
For starters, Maine law defines “drugs” very broadly: “The term ‘drugs' includes any natural or artificial chemical substance that, when taken into the human body, can impair the ability of the person to safely operate a motor vehicle.” The first things that come to mind, for many people, are illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. However, many prescription drugs, even those taken according to the dosage requirements, can fall into this definition, as well. Taking any drug that has the potential to affect your ability to drive can lead to an OUI. Think about what kinds of pills, even the ones that you can easily get from CVS or Walgreens, might make it hard to drive. Hydrocodone, a main ingredient in Vicodin, can render you confused, which would make it harder for you to drive. Similarly, antidepressants have a wide range of side effects that would make it more difficult to drive, like blurred vision, or even drowsiness. Speaking of drowsiness, lots of people have taken decongestants, or even allergy medication, and feel drowsy. Feeling drowsy is even the whole point behind taking sleeping pills.
Many people may drive drugged, without even knowing it.
Unfortunately, drugged driving, while it carries the same OUI charge as drunk driving does, has different standards of proof. While a breathalyzer is very good at telling exactly how drunk you are, using the solid number of your blood alcohol content – such as 0.11%, which is over the legal limit – there's no similar way to show exactly how drugged you are. As a result, Maine police officers are trained by the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program to evaluate drivers for drug impairment. While the evaluations include looking at numerous indicators, including your temperature, psychomotor function, blood pressure, and your pulse, the results are still fuzzier than the solid number that a breathalyzer can give you. In the end, it's not a perfectly accurate determination of how impaired you were, and can lead to wrongful charges when you weren't impaired.
Regardless of the potential inaccuracies in a drug evaluation, an OUI charge for drugged driving carries the exact same punishment as drunk driving. If you have any prior convictions for any type of OUI, the penalties you face will increase. Additionally, many of the penalties you face for an OUI charge are minimums, allowing the judge to add higher penalties, in his or her own discretion.
Getting charged for OUI is a serious event, and you can stumble into it by taking the wrong dosages, at the wrong time. Talk to your doctor about how prescription medications will affect your ability to drive, and always read the warning labels on over-the-counter medications, as well. If you do get charged for drugged driving, call the law office of William T. Bly, at (207) 571-8146. He has the experience protect your rights and interests throughout the legal process.