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DUI charges and drug use

Virginians know that drunk driving can result in DUI charges. But, what about driving under the influence of drugs?

According to a 2010 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 10 million Americans drove while under the influence of drugs in 2009. Many Virginians have the misconception that driving while using drugs is illegal only when the drugs being used are illegal. However, this is not the case. Driving while using legally prescribed medication can also be considered illegal.

DUI laws are based on the basic idea that driving while impaired is dangerous to motorists and pedestrians on the roadways. Therefore, you can get convicted of a DUI if you were caught using any substance that impairs your ability to focus on the road.

It is more difficult for law enforcement to charge drivers with a DUI for drug use than a DUI for alcohol use. For one, measuring drug impairment is more difficult measuring alcohol impairment.

Breathalyzer tests are used to measure the blood alcohol concentration levels in a driver and are fairly accurate, if they are administered properly. Testing for drugs is a different story. For example, marijuana is detectable by measuring THC in a driver's urine or bloodstream. But, THC is detectable four or five weeks after use, making it difficult to determine whether the driver was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the traffic stop. Some jurisdictions use Drug Recognition Experts to detect whether a person is under the influence of drugs, based on a person's eye movements and behaviors.

Virginia has drugged driving "per se" laws. This means that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of drugs in your system. This zero-tolerance policy makes it easier for law enforcement officers to charge you with a DUI for drugged driving.

Unfortunately, the fact that medication was prescribed by a doctor is not a defense to a DUI charge. If a DUI charge is based on alleged drug use, it may be beneficial to contact a legal professional to help.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Driving under the influence of drugs," accessed on April 19, 2016

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