While most drivers in Atlanta and throughout Georgia are aware of the potential danger posed by drivers who are operating a semi-truck, car or SUV while under the influence of an illegal narcotic or alcohol, many do not give a second thought to driving after taking a prescription medication or over-the-counter drug. However, there are many legal drugs that can impede one’s ability to drive just like an illegal drug or alcohol. When a driver causes an accident because the driver is drowsy after taking a sleep aid or antihistamine, the driver may face both criminal and civil liability.
It is a common misconception that DUI laws that impose criminal penalties on intoxicated drivers treat those driving with a lawful prescription or with a readily available OTC drug differently than more typical DUI cases involving alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine or other controlled substances. However, there is no legal distinction in terms of DUI law because drivers who operate a motor vehicle after ingesting any form of intoxicating substance may be subject to the criminal penalties for DUI.
Generally, civil liability may also be imposed despite the fact the intoxicating substance is a legal drug. However, the issue is whether a reasonable person knew or should have known that it was unsafe to operate a vehicle after taking the prescription or OTC medication. If the drug is not properly labeled or no advisory is proved by the pharmacist or packaging, this evidence can impact whether the adverse impact on one’s driving made the accident foreseeable.
This is more than a hypothetical issue because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year called on pharmaceutical companies that manufacture sleep aids to provide more safety information to consumers warning of the risks of operating heavy machinery when under the influence of the medication. The FDA also called on the manufacturers of sleep aids to consider reducing the amount of the active ingredient in prescription forms of these drugs because of mounting evidence that many drivers are still affected by them when they drive the following morning. The FDA expressly indicated concerns about Ambien and its generic form zolpidem.
In addition to these concerns about prescription sleeping aids, the FDA has now expressed concerns about the risk that allergy medications can cause car accidents related to drowsiness. If you are involved in a car accident with a driver who is under the influence of any form of alcohol or drug, whether legal prescription drug, OTC or unlawful narcotic, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries and financial loss.