As the term implies, drunk driving can be described as an incident wherein a driver operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of controlled substances, illegal drugs, and/or alcohol. Drugged driving, also known as “driving under the influence” or simply “DUI”, is often used interchangeably with the phrases “operating while intoxicated (OWI)” and/or “driving while intoxicated (DWI)”. However, these three phrases do not have the same meaning.

The latter two acronyms (i.e., OWI and DWI) refer to situations in which a driver is operating a motor vehicle while they are impaired by the effects of alcohol. In other words, drunk. These two usually distinctly apply only when alcohol is part of the crime.

On the other hand, a DUI charge does not always include a scenario that involves alcohol, but rather any kind of substance that would prevent a driver from safely operating their motor vehicle. The phrase “substance impaired driving” is also sometimes used to refer to an offense that involves drugged driving or DUI charges.

To make matters even more confusing, all three terms may apply to a situation that involves drugged or drunk driving depending on the laws of a particular state. Thus, you may want to speak to a local criminal defense attorney about which term applies in your specific area if you have been charged with a drugged driving offense. It is important that you know the exact term your state applies since it can impact the types of penalties you receive (if any).

Finally, it should be noted that if you are pulled over and taken into custody for drugged driving, then you could be at risk of being charged with a felony offense. Convictions of felony offenses tend to lead to more severe forms of punishment. Additionally, contingent on the circumstances surrounding your case, you can also face charges for other drug crimes if the police discover drugs in your vehicle.

Can I Be Accused of Drugged Driving If I am Taking Prescription Medication?

As discussed above, a driver can be charged with a drugged driving violation, regardless of whether the drugs they ingested were illegal or medications legally prescribed by a physician.

For example, if a driver is prescribed a medication that explicitly states in its instructions that its effects may cause drowsiness and/or that persons taking it should not operate heavy machinery or drive, then a driver can be accused of drugged driving if they are pulled over because of an incident caused by impaired driving skills.

In other words, so long as a driver is ingesting something that would affect their ability to drive, then they could potentially be accused of drugged driving no matter if the substance is deemed to be illegal or not.

What are Drugged Driving Per Se Laws?

Most states have laws that are known as, “drugged driving per se law.” These laws tend to vary by state and may apply to cases involving either DUI or DWI charges. In general, “per se” laws are intended to prohibit and deter drivers from operating a motor vehicle while they are under a certain level of controlled substances and/or alcohol.

Basically, a per se law will provide a set percentage or amount of alcohol and/or drugs that will constitute the baseline that a driver must be under before they can be convicted without further proof.

For instance, if an intoxication test reveals that a driver had a particular amount of alcohol and drugs in their bloodstream while they were driving and that amount exceeded the number prescribed in a state’s per se law, then the driver could be charged and convicted of drugged driving without any other evidence.

Put another way, a per se law establishes that the person was drugged when driving simply based on the fact they had enough substances in their bloodstream. They do not need to appear to be impaired and their case will not require proof that they had previously taken any type of drugs.

What Is the Difference Between Zero Tolerance and Specific Limits Regarding Drugged Driving?

Some states have chosen to adopt laws that impose a “zero tolerance” policy. In such states, a driver can be charged with drugged driving if any amount of illegal or controlled substances are discovered in their bloodstream.

Not every state imposes a zero tolerance policy when it comes to charging an adult for drugged driving violations. However, all fifty states have implemented zero tolerance policies when it comes to punishing minors who are under the age of 21 years old for drugged driving.

On the other hand, some states have enacted “specific limit” per se laws. Specific limit per se laws address both the type of drug and the amount of a drug for which a person can be charged with drugged driving if it is found in their system.

For example, suppose a state imposed a limit on the amount of THC (i.e., the psychoactive component in marijuana) that could be found in a driver’s body. Similar to other examples discussed throughout this article, if the level of THC found in a driver’s body exceeds that of a state’s imposed limit, then they can be automatically convicted of drugged driving.

What Are the Penalties for Drugged Driving?

As previously mentioned, the laws for drugged driving will vary widely from state to state. This means that the penalties for drugged driving will often differ as well. Some basic examples of the types of penalties that a driver can receive if they are convicted on drugged driving charges include the following:

  • A jail or prison sentence (depending on whether the driver is facing charges for a drugged driving misdemeanor or felony offense);
  • Monetary fines of up to $1,000 or more;
  • A temporary or permanent license suspension or revocation;
  • Mandatory alcohol treatment and/or counseling programs;
  • Traffic or driving courses;
  • Community service hours;
  • Probation or parole;
  • Impoundment, confiscation, or suspension of the driver’s motor vehicle; and
  • Increased prison sentences and/or monetary fines based on the number of repeated offenses that a driver has on their criminal record.

In addition, it should be noted that the penalties issued for drugged driving will primarily depend on state law as well as the facts of each individual case. In general, however, a driver is more likely to receive a harsher penalty when there are other crimes attached to the charges and if their drugged driving caused harm or death to other persons involved in the incident.

Can a Criminal Attorney Help Me with My Drugged Driving Case?

Cases involving drugged driving charges should be taken very seriously. Not only can a conviction for drugged driving result in serious legal penalties, but a drugged driving conviction can also remain on your permanent criminal record, which can affect the rest of your personal life. Thus, it is strongly recommended that you hire a local criminal defense attorney to assist you with your drugged driving case.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and legal protections under the laws in your state. Your attorney can also find out whether there are any defenses you can raise against charges for drugged driving, and if so, can argue those defenses on your behalf before the criminal court.

In addition, your attorney can help you understand the potential consequences you may be facing if you are convicted and lose the case. Your attorney can also petition the court for an alternative sentence (if applicable) or can communicate with the prosecutor to see if they would permit you to accept a plea deal.