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Is Driving With a Cold As Dangerous as Driving Drunk?

Recently, an appellate court in South Carolina ruled on a criminal appeal brought by a woman who was accused of causing a fatal car accident while intoxicated, based on toxicology reports that showed marijuana in her system, as well as cold and cough medicines. 

In the case of Kranchick v. State, defendant was challenging the expertise of the state’s primary witness, who asserted that while the marijuana in her system could have been consumed up to 24 hours previously if she was a regular user, the amounts of cold and cough medicines in her blood indicated she was not using them for therapeutic purposes. Initially, the trial court granted her request for post-conviction relief on this point, but the appellate court reversed and reinstated defendant’s original conviction and sentence – which was for 13 years in prison.

But the case raises the larger question of how much cold medicine is too much? Can driving with a cold really be as dangerous as driving drunk? What does that mean in terms of liability? 

The fact is, F.S. 316.193, which is known as Florida’s drunk driving statute, states that one can be convicted of driving under the influence if:

  • The person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle AND
  • The person is under the influence of alcohol or “any chemical substance” to the extent his or her normal faculties are impaired.

That’s a pretty subjective term, and the reality is, proving it – both in criminal and civil cases – can be a challenge, especially when levels of the drug are within what would be considered the “therapeutic range.” Still, pick up any bottle of cough or cold medicine, and you will see a clear warnings to the effect of, “This product can make you drowsy,” “Don’t operate heavy machinery after taking this product,” or “Do not drive or operate a motor vehicle when using this product.” According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, these are listed under the “Drug Facts” on every package of over-the-counter medications.

Some of the most common drugs that can cause drowsiness or impair driving:

  • Antihistamines. These are used to treat itchy/ runny noses, coughing, watery eyes, etc. Some are used to treat the common cold and a few offer to treat sleeplessness. They are sometimes added as an ingredient to pain relievers. They can make users feel unfocused or drowsy, which can slow reaction times.
  • Antidiarrheals. These treat symptoms of diarrhea, but can also cause sleepiness.
  • Anti-emetics. These are medications used to treat vomiting and nausea, but they can also impair a person and make them extremely tired.

Most people take these effects for granted. Every single day, people go about their lives with a common cold and don’t think twice about what the potential effects could be. In terms of liability, if you cause a car accident while driving impaired – whether it’s because of doing shots at the bar or simply taking a few Benadryls to battle a cold – you face the same level of responsibility.

And if you needed another reason to just stay home and get well? A study conducted last year by the Cardiff University in Wales revealed that persons who got behind the wheel with symptoms of the common cold saw a 50 percent drop in their driving ability – which is the equivalent of drinking four double whiskey drinks. As CBS News reported, those who had colds had slower reaction times, drove more erratically and were generally less aware of the surrounding traffic than their fellow drivers – and this was all without the cold medicine.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Kranchick v. State, Oct. 26, 2016, South Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Family of Teen Killed in Car Accident Sue State, Allege Poor Road Design, Oct. 21, 2016, West Palm Beach Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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