According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day, 28 people in the United States die in traffic collisions that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This equals one fatality every 53 minutes. Even today, about one in three traffic deaths involve a drunk driver. In 2014, 9,967 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents in the United States, and over 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

From 2003 through 2012, 10,327 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in California. The figures indicate that even in 2017, driving under the influence remains a serious societal problem and a genuine risk to the safety of the general public. And 16 percent of all traffic accidents now involve a legal or illegal drug that is not alcohol. In the state of California, for example, a driving under the influence charge does not even have to involve alcohol or illegal drugs.

If you drive in California under the influence of anything that can impair your driving ability, you can potentially face a DUI charge. In August of 2015, for example, a Fairfield, California man, Joseph Schwab, 36, was charged with driving under the influence after testing positive for caffeine. Schwab tested negative for alcohol. A California Alcohol Beverage Control agent observed Schwab weaving in and out of traffic. She asked Schwab to perform field sobriety tests, and then she arrested him. The charge against Schwab was dropped in December 2016.

CAN CAFFEINE REALLY IMPAIR YOUR DRIVING ABILITY?

Can drinking coffee really impair someone’s ability to drive? Forensic toxicologist Edwin Smith told Fox 6 News that caffeine may actually enhance a person’s ability to drive. Dr. John Torres, a medical contributor to NBC News, agrees. “Studies have shown that caffeine actually helps one’s driving abilities. The only way that it might have an effect is if a person overdoses on caffeine or uses it to cover fatigue and then it wears off,” Torres explains.

As defined by California’s DUI laws, a “drug” is any substance other than alcohol that might “impair, to an appreciable degree” a motorist’s ability to drive safely. Driving under the influence – DUI – is the most frequently charged crime in the United States, and it is usually a difficult charge to defend against. Prosecutors have breathalyzer results and other “scientific” evidence on their side to impress juries. And over the last four decades, awareness of DUI has increased considerably.

Responding to the constant pressure from the news media and citizen groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), lawmakers in all fifty states have passed stricter DUI laws and have provided district attorneys with tough new tools for prosecuting DUI suspects. All intoxicated driving is illegal now in California and is covered by California’s extensive DUI laws, whether a driver is impaired by alcohol, marijuana, an illegal drug or substance, a legal prescription, or an over-the-counter medication.

WHICH DRUGS IMPAIR THE ABILITY TO DRIVE?

While caffeine probably has no effect at all on anyone’s driving ability, many prescription and over-the-counter medicines can impair someone’s ability to drive, and many of the California drivers who use those prescription and over-the-counter drugs have been getting behind the wheel, getting arrested, and getting themselves charged with driving under the influence. It is imperative for drivers everywhere to know that many medications, including most prescription pharmaceuticals, impact their ability to drive safely.

Ambien, Lunesta, Sudafed, and many other common prescription medicines and over-the-counter products can be just as dangerous as alcohol if you use them and decide to drive. On the other hand, simply using a prescription or an over-the counter drug does not necessarily make you guilty of driving under the influence, either. The state still has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were in fact impaired while driving under the influence of the drug.

As you may know, an ongoing controversy regarding marijuana and marijuana-DUI charges – “How stoned is too stoned to drive? – has been taking place for years. Since 2009, an increasing number of the California drivers who are killed in traffic crashes are testing positive for drugs other than alcohol. In 2009, 27.8 percent of the drivers killed in California crashes tested positive for drugs other than alcohol; by 2013, that figure had risen to 32.7 percent.

IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH DUI, WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?

Anyone who is charged with DUI in Southern California must be represented an experienced Orange County DUI defense lawyer who understands how DUI prosecutions are conducted and knows how to defend against the charge. Do not let prescription or over-the counter drugs lead to a DUI and the subsequent fines, probation, license suspension, and possible jail time. As DUI cases grow in complexity, the possibility of mistakes by police officers and prosecutors grows as well. In this state, anyone charged with driving under the influence faces potential consequences that include fines, a driver’s license suspension or revocation, and time behind bars.

If you face a DUI charge in California – now or in the future – speak with an experienced Orange County DUI defense lawyer. A good DUI attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor to have the charge reduced or dismissed. Your attorney will also schedule a DMV hearing to try to keep your license from being suspended. If your DUI case goes to trial, your lawyer will work to dispute the state’s evidence and discredit the state’s witnesses. If you end up charged with DUI in California – even if you were only drinking coffee – get the legal help you need promptly.

The truth is that everyone knows that drugs and driving do not mix. But when people are intoxicated, it can be easy to forget that drugs and driving don’t mix, and it can be easy to rationalize getting behind the wheel when you shouldn’t. Even if you have a California medical marijuana card, you must not drive in this state when you are under the influence. Scrutinize the packaging and labels carefully on all prescription and over-the-counter products. Most drugs that you purchase legally will indicate if users should not drive or operate heavy equipment. Speak to your pharmacist or physician if you have any concerns about a particular medicine.