For many drivers, taking prescription drugs before driving is nothing unusual. Often, these drugs are used to treat pain and when ingested according to instructions, are perfectly safe to take even before getting behind the wheel. Having said that, occasionally we see cases where a driver has been charged for simply taking prescription drugs before driving.
It’s unfortunate, because in many cases these drivers have been taking the medication for years without side effect, and suddenly police are alleging they are driving while drug-impaired. In one case, a woman in Surrey was stuck in a snowbank on the side of the road and appeared inebriated to passersby who tried to help her out. Police arrived and arrested her, eventually charging her with being impaired by alcohol or drug.
Driver had taken prescription drugs for eight years, but was arrested
It turns out the driver has a bipolar condition and had been taking several sets of medication for eight years. Every day, she was required to take three types of medication in the morning, two types at about 4 p.m. and another three types of medication before bed. She had also recently broken two bones in her foot and had been taking prescribed Tylenol 3s the day she was arrested. She also had a glass of wine during dinner, before she got into the car, which would account for an odour of liquor.
When the issue came to court, a medical expert testified that at the prescribed dosages, the driver would be able to safely operate a vehicle. Driving was something she did routinely for work, after all. However, the court found the driver had actually missed an earlier dosage in the day, and had taken a double dosage of her medicine to compensate. In addition, she had taken several Tylenol number 3s that day, and had a glass of wine.
The court determined that the driver was aware that she could suffer side-effects if she didn’t take medication according to prescribed dosages. She had recently changed medications in the months before and was depressed, owing to not having the “proper balance” of medications, and was suffering from episodes of mania. The court determined that while she could normally drive, she had taken too much medication in too short a time that day, and should have known that she was impaired.
Driver thought she was just taking ‘super Extra Strength Tylenol’
This case involves a driver who testified she blacked out after taking a pain medication given by sister, advertised to her as “super extra-strength Tylenol” to control pre-menstrual pain. Unknown to the driver, the pill she took was actually a generic form of Vicodin, which when combined with alcohol, can cause “coma, severe mental confusion, drowsiness and dizziness, and lack of memory.” The driver testified she drank about 2.5-4.0 oz. of Canadian whiskey, and had no recollection of any events until she woke up in a jail cell.
From the police version of events, an officer said the driver’s truck matched a description from a 911 call and tried to pull her over. But despite using sirens, an air horn and the officer waving her arms around, the driver didn’t stop. About three kilometres later, the driver finally coasted to a stop without braking. The officer described the driver as someone who stared straight ahead, holding the steering wheel with both hands, without responding to the officer nor speaking. She was arrested and charged with impaired driving and dangerous driving.
The driver argued in court that she didn’t know she was taking a drug that would have caused these effects after a single drink. However, the court determined that the driver voluntarily took the drug and drink of alcohol, and was reckless in that she didn’t know what was in the pills. Her conviction was upheld.
Most won’t have side effects from taking prescription drugs before driving
But there’s always the exception. Many prescription drugs have side effects, but often these effects only show up in a very small subset of the population. So for the average driver, taking these prescription drugs before driving shouldn’t adversely affect their ability, but you never know.
Take this example. A man was prescribed an antibiotic, a painkiller similar to a Tylenol 3 and a drug called Serax, a quit-smoking medication. He had recently cut his index finger, the wound became infected and he was prescribed the medications. The prescribing doctor testified that the combination of the three drugs “could possibly cause drowsiness and confusion in some people,” but that most people should be able to still drive. The driver was not warned the medications could impact his driving.
Police arrested the man after multiple witnesses reported the erratic driving behaviour. Another car was rear-ended in a hit-and-run, a concrete median was struck, a minivan and then a pick-up truck was also rear-ended. When police arrived, the man appeared asleep in his vehicle – a witness had taken the keys out. The driver was described as “twitching” with eyes “as big as saucers” and though he didn’t smell like alcohol, witnesses suggested he looked like he was high on some drug.
When the case was tested, the court said this:
“As a result of the sudden onset of a disease or physical disability the manner of driving would be dangerous yet those circumstances could provide a complete defence despite the objective demonstration of dangerous driving.
Similarly, a driver who, in the absence of any warning or knowledge of its possible effects, takes a prescribed medication which suddenly and unexpectedly affects the driver in such a way that the manner of driving was dangerous to the public, could still establish a good defence to the charge, although it had been objectively established.”
In the end, the court said there was a possibility that it was purely the prescribed medication that caused the driving behaviour, and that the driver’s intent to commit a crime had not been established. He was acquitted on all counts.
If you were charged after taking prescription drugs before driving
Prescription drugs are regulated and are often legal to consume before driving. However, there have been many cases where drivers have only taken prescribed medications, according to their doctors’ instructions, and were still charged with impaired driving or other driving offences.
We have successfully challenged numerous cases where it is alleged drivers were driving under the influence of drugs. An allegation that you were impaired by drugs while driving can be extremely damaging. Don’t let the doctor’s orders become an impaired driving criminal record. We have the experience to defend the allegations. Call us today at 604-685-8889.