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Do prescription drugs and other medications impair drivers?

by AirTalk®

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Miami Beach police department conducts a field sobriety test at a DUI traffic checkpoint. On Thursday, February 14, 2013, Senator Correa introduced a bill to make all drugged driving illegal, including prescription drugs without a valid prescription. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Everybody knows you’re not supposed to get behind the wheel after you’ve had a few drinks. And if you’re stopped, there’s a clear measure for law enforcement: 0.08% of alcohol in your blood.  But what if your driving is impaired by something else – prescription painkillers, cold medicine or other medications? A report released by the California Office of Traffic Safety last year found that twice as many weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for potentially impairing drugs as for alcohol.

A new law proposed by State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) would make driving under the influence of certain Class I through IV drugs illegal, unless you have a prescription. Also, common medications that contain codeine such as Tylenol with codeine and Xanax fall into this category. 

Orange County is already on the frontlines in the effort to reduce drugged driving with a program in place to train officers to recognize the symptoms in the field. But how will drug tests and officers be able to distinguish between over-the-counter drugs and prescriptions? Other critics say drugs can linger in the body and will cause positive test results, even though the driver may not be impaired. Also, what’s the difference between driving with or without a valid prescription if the driver is considered impaired?

Norma Torres, California Assembly Member (D-Pomona)

Lanette Davies, director of legislative affairs, Crusaders for Patients Rights

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