Drivers associate the term DUI, driving under the influence, with alcohol use. However, a DUI goes far beyond the realms of alcohol intoxication. Driving under the influence of marijuana, certain medications, or any other intoxicating substance is enough to warrant a DUI. In fact, legal and illegal drugs other than alcohol are involved in almost 20 percent of all crashes.
While the BAC, or blood alcohol concentration, limit for driving under the influence in the United States is 0.08 percent, driving under the influence of just one dose of certain medications or any amount of marijuana is often an offense punishable by law. Unlike a breathalyzer, which has the ability to read the blood alcohol concentration instantly by a simple exhale, law enforcement lacks sufficient technology to accurately test whether or not a driver is under the influence of any other substance without further testing through lab equipment. However, suspicious driving, slurred speech, unusual behavior, and a poor performance during the FST, field sobriety test, may be enough for a police officer to arrest drivers who seem intoxicated.
For as “harmless” as marijuana may seem, studies have found that drivers who are high on cannabis are 25 percent more likely to be involved in an accident. There are only six states with per se laws related to driving under the influence of cannabis, while 18 explicitly have a zero tolerance policy. Penalties may vary depending on the state in which you were arrested and the context of your arrest, but the following are typical punishments for being charged with a marijuana DUI:
- One to 365 days in jail
- License suspension for 90 to 365 days
- Fines up to $5,000 (plus legal expenses)
Penalties may also include house arrest, community service, and vehicle impoundment.
A prescription does not make it okay, nor does it protect you from punishment, when charged with a DUI. In fact, many prescriptions state they should not be taken before driving a vehicle or operating machinery. Even relatively benign drugs, like SSRI antidepressants, can result in severe impairment when combined with even small amounts of alcohol or other drugs. When charged with a prescription drug-related DUI, police officers are generally looking for the following drugs:
- Pain relievers or “pain killers”
- Sedatives and sleeping medications
If you are driving under the influence of those substances, penalties (which again, may vary dependent on the state you are in and the context of your arrest) could include:
- A maximum 30 days in jail
- A maximum $400 dollars in fines (plus legal expenses)
- License suspension for 30 days
- Increased automotive insurance rates
On top of being illegal on their own, driving under the influence of non-prescription drugs is an offense punishable by law. Stimulants, such as cocaine, have been found to cause erratic driving such as speeding and a lack of regard for using signals. Penalties for driving under the influence of illicit drugs include the following:
- A maximum 365 days in jail
- A maximum $10,000 in fines
- License suspension
Although 29 people in the United States are involved in fatal accidents due to drivers who are drunk every day, driving under the influence goes far beyond alcohol intoxication. Getting behind the wheel while intoxicated by marijuana, as well as many prescription and nonprescription drugs, qualifies as driving under the influence.