Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs – NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1192.4

March 18, 2014

I posted something on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/CatalanoCarpenterLLP) the other day commenting on how driving while impaired by drugs (specifically, the sleep-aid Ambien) is a crime in New York State. Afterwards, it occurred to me tho that most people may have no idea what “drugs” can get you into trouble with the law. Obviously, bombing up and down the Taconic State Parkway after a bump of cocaine is a “no-no” no-brainer. But what about prescription meds? Does the law really tell you that you can’t drive yourself to work after taking your required and perhaps even life-saving PRESCRIBED medication?

Why yes, it does tell you exactly that!

If your medication is included in any one of the five schedules of controlled substances contained in NYS Public Health Law Section 3306, it is illegal to drive while that substance is in your system. You might be thinking that FIVE different schedules of substances sounds like a lot…and you’d be right! It IS a lot! There are a lot of prescribed medications on that list that most people don’t realize can jam them up. And I’ve had plenty of clients come to me after an arrest for NYS VTL 1192.4 (driving while ability impaired by drugs) totally confused as to how they could have been arrested when they had the legal prescription bottle right next to them in the car! Think about it tho: it’s not illegal to drink alcohol either! But if you’re impaired because of the alcohol you drank, it’s a crime to drive.

Ok, so practically speaking, your heart medication probably isn’t going to get you arrested (unless it impairs you somehow AND contains a scheduled narcotic). Generally police officers and other arresting agencies are mostly concerned with (i.e., trained to look for symptoms related to) certain categories of controlled substances.  Those categories are 1) Central nervous system depressants (e.g., alcohol, valium); 2) Central nervous system stimulants (e.g., cocaine, amphetamines); 3) Hallucinogens (LSD); 4) Disassociative anesthetics (e.g., PCP); 5) Narcotic analgesics (e.g., heroin, morphine, codeine); 6) Inhalants (e.g., gasoline, glue, nitrous); and 7) Cannabis. If you’re driving with anything in your system that falls into one of those categories, you’re breaking the law.

Most of the examples I included are pretty apparent. But, as I mentioned at the top of this article, when it comes to the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law, there’s no real difference between that illegal cocaine and that Ambien pill prescribed by your lifelong licensed family physician. If you’re impaired, you’re probably getting arrested.

Long story short, know your meds, and know which ones are included in ANY of the five schedules of controlled substances. Most of the substances are not identified in the schedules specifically by a pharmaceutical identifier, but rather by the generic name; Ambien, for example is included in Schedule IV as Zolpidem.  So if you don’t know, ask your doctor. Don’t drive drugged.