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Posted on June 21, 2016 in Drugs,DUI,Traffic Violations

Driving on Ambien: Legality

We all know that driving under the influence is against the law. Drinking and using illicit drugs and driving leads to deaths and injuries each year. What’s less clear, however, is whether driving while taking certain prescription drugs is illegal.

Thousands of Americans fight with insomnia each year. Lack of sleep can affect our work performance and our relationships with loved ones. To help with this problem, we turn to prescription drugs such as Ambien to help us sleep better and lead more productive lives. However, operating heavy machinery, including cars, under the influence of Ambien can be dangerous.

Ambien, generically referred to as zolpidem, has several side effects, including sleepiness, unusual drowsiness, confusion, and blurred vision. Taken together, these can affect your ability to drive a car. At least, that is what arresting officers think in car accident cases. They have charged Arizona residents with DUI after performing poorly on field tests and after blood tests revealed the presence of Ambien in their systems. In some cases, driving is unavoidable, or the Ambien in a driver’s system may not have been the true cause of an accident or erratic driving.

Can I Be Charged With a DUI If Driving on Ambien?

Technically, an officer can charge you with a DUI if you drive under the influence of any substance that affects your driving. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs (illicit or prescription), DUIs come with heavy fines. They are a Class 1 misdemeanor for the first offense, the most serious kind of misdemeanor in Arizona. It is punishable by up to six months in prison and additional fines.

If this seems steep, or even unfair, you’re not alone. Many Arizona residents think they shouldn’t be punished for car accidents or driving erratically when they’re taking medications as directed by their prescribing physicians. But, the Arizona Court of Appeals recently ruled that you can be guilty of a DUI if you have Ambien in your system, even if you didn’t know it would cause impairment to your driving.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. The law states that you can be charged with a DUI if you did – or should have – known that the drug you’re taking would lead to impairment. One could argue that if you’d read your prescription insert, you would know about Ambien’s side effects. The courts held in State vs. Bayless-George that DUI is a strict liability statute, meaning that a defendant doesn’t necessarily need to know that a substance will impair him or her.

What Can I Do If I’m Charged With a DUI?

If you’re facing misdemeanor charges for a DUI because you had legally prescribed drugs in your system, you’re not alone. The most important thing you can do, as with any case, is to hire a lawyer and let them help you achieve the best outcome. In general, you should:

  • Exercise your right to remain silent. It’s natural to want to justify yourself, but anything you say can and will be used against you. You may be admitting guilt without realizing it.
  • Contact a lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney knows the best ways to protect your rights. Don’t answer any questions without a lawyer present.

If you’re facing a DUI, get in touch with Orent Law Offices. A DUI attorney has several ways to beat a DUI charge, including an emergency or an illness that may have impeded your driving, rather than the Ambien. We’re passionate advocates for our clients, and we won’t stop until we achieve the best outcome possible. We put our years of trial experience to work for you. To take advantage of our free initial consultation, contact us.