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DON’T Drive Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs

Don’t Drive if you are Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs!

  • N.C. statutes say that you’re still DWI even if your Rx was legal
  • 11% of drug-impaired drivers in fatal accidents tested positive for opioids
  • Half of older adults say they take multiple prescriptions yet still drive

don't drive while using prescription pillsMany North Carolina drivers have the false impression that they can legally drive after taking drugs so long as those drugs were legally prescribed. In fact, North Carolina DWI law dictates that driving under the influence of any “impairing substance” is a crime, and having legal permission to consume that substance is not a reasonable defense.

Driving under the influence of prescription drugs is an extremely common problem, not just in North Carolina, but also in the United States as a whole. A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found that in 2016, 44% of drivers who died in car accidents were flagged as positive when tested for drugs in autopsy.  Roughly 11% of these drivers tested positive for opioids.

Opioids and many other types of prescription drugs can have dangerous side effects on par with (and sometimes worse than) the effects of alcohol or controlled substances. When drivers make the mistake of taking these drugs before getting behind the wheel, they put all North Carolinians at risk.

Victims of car accidents caused by these drivers can receive major injuries and rack up huge medical bills. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding injury accidents often influence the decision to hire a car accident attorney in Charlotte to represent their claims against at fault drivers and their insurers. Experienced injury attorneys are tasked with fighting hard for their clients in order to recover their full compensation that the law provides for injury victims.

You should already know that it is never a good idea to drive if you are under the influence of any drugs, alcohol or other substances that are going to affect how you drive. It is worth noting that the problem of intoxicated driving is still a huge problem!  Consider the following facts about prescription drugs and North Carolina law.

North Carolina DWI Statutes Make No Room for Legally Prescribed Drugs

Even though North Carolina’s DWI statutes don’t mention prescription drugs specifically, the laws are still quite specific about the fact that a legal prescription doesn’t make it ok to drive under the influence.

North Carolina General Statute § 20-138.1. states that, “a person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives any vehicle upon any highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within this State while under the influence of an impairing substance.”

  • 20-4.01. defines an “Impairing Substance” as follows: “Alcohol, controlled substance under Chapter 90 of the General Statutes, any other drug or psychoactive substance capable of impairing a person’s physical or mental faculties, or any combination of these substances.”

More importantly, the statute goes on to mention a specific “Defense Precluded” clause, which refers to a defense that will automatically be regarded as invalid by the court. The clause states: “The fact that a person charged with violating this section is or has been legally entitled to use alcohol or a drug is not a defense to a charge under this section.”

In other words, North Carolina DWI laws make no exception for any prescription drugs that are “capable of impairing a person’s physical or mental faculties.” The fact that they have been legally prescribed does not make any difference, as far as the law is concerned.

If you are driving under the influence — whether the substance was legally acquired or not — you are breaking the law.

Many Prescription Medications Can Impair Driving

Most people tend to think of legal drugs and illegal drugs in separate categories. The thought goes: “As long as I am not over the legal limit for drunk driving or under the influence of illegal drugs, I can’t possibly be too impaired to drive!”

This thought process is an unfortunate result of a lack of information given to the public regarding the dangers of some prescription medications — and many over-the-counter remedies, as well. While many of these products contain warnings, they are usually not given with the same sense of gravity as a bartender worrying about a patron driving home. Perhaps their manufacturers do not want their drugs to be associated with the same kinds of psychoactive or impairing effects that illegal drugs create, but the result is uninformed decision making that leads to driving under the influence.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) cautions people to be aware that a broad range of prescription and over-the-counter medicines can negatively affect drivers’ abilities, including: “prescription drugs for anxiety, some antidepressants, some cold remedies and allergy products, sleeping pills, and pain relievers.”

Side effects to watch out for include drowsiness, blurred vision, delayed reaction times, fainting, or disorientation. Some more serious side effects can dramatically affect coordination or create distorted thought patterns that make driving nearly impossible.

Older adults are particularly at risk for these types of side effects because they may be prescribed multiple medicines, some of which may have unanticipated side interactions with each other. AAA reports that nearly 50% of older adults say they take seven or more medications yet still drive regularly. They go on to caution that medicines with impairing side effects or drug interactions can raise a driver’s risk of an accident by 300%.

Ask Your Doctor About Side Effects to Avoid Unsafe Driving

To avoid raising your risk of an accident, avoid taking medications that say “Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery” as a warning label. “Heavy Machinery” includes cars.

Also, ask your physician about whether the medication can result in the inability to drive safely.  It is also always a good idea to make sure that all of your doctors and your pharmacist knows all of the drugs you are taking because of the risk of  unsafe drug interactions if you take multiple prescriptions.

Note that some medications affect different people in different ways, and these effects can also fluctuate based on whether you have eaten, whether you have gained or lost weight recently, and several other variables. You can also develop habits that allow you to take your prescriptions as recommended while following a schedule that makes unsafe driving less likely.

Have You Been in an Accident with a Driver on Rx Drugs?

Not every driver knows that they should not drive on prescription medications, but ignorance is no excuse or defense when you break the law.

If you have been injured by a driver who has tested positive for impairing prescriptions or who may have been using them at the time of the accident, you can work with a car accident attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina to build your case. The impaired driver may be liable for your damages, including medical bills, lost income, vehicle repairs, and pain and suffering.

You can speak with a North Carolina car accident attorney during a free case evaluation when you schedule your free case evaluation today by calling 704-364-3361 or our convenient online contact form.

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