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Can Cough Medicine Lead to a DWI

James M Wagman

Blowing in on winter’s chilled winds is cold and cough season. To ease the coughing, chills, fever and runny nose of a cold, many turn to over-the-counter cold and cough syrups. It should be remembered, however, that many of these syrups contain alcohol or diphenhydramine and could affect the taker in ways that were unanticipated.

Should drivers that take cold or cough syrup worry about the affects of the alcohol that these medicines contain?

Possibly. Just because medicine and alcoholic beverages are ingested for different reasons, doesn’t necessarily mean that the alcohol they contain has different effects. In New York, as in other states, the driving laws only prohibit driving while intoxicated – they do not limit punishment to only those drivers who have imbibed alcoholic beverages.

Remember that it isn’t necessary to reach a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 before one can run afoul of New York’s driving laws. To be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), a driver needs to have a BAC of .08 or greater; but if one has a BAC between .05 and .07 and is sufficiently impaired, under New York law he or she could be charged with driving while ability impaired (DWAI). While the penalties for DWAI are less harsh than those for DWI, a DWAI conviction could still have a driver facing the penalties of a driver’s license suspension and/or jail time.

But, if taking medicine for a cough or cold is legal, why should driver be in trouble for taking a legal substance to ease the affects of a cold or cough?

It is true that cough medicine is legal to take for a cold or cough, but it is also legal to imbibe alcohol if a person is over the age of 21. The law is not concerned with the ingestion of these substances provided you are of legal age and the substance is legal: the law is only concerned with driving impairment. So, a legal substance, taken to alleviate symptoms of a seasonal illness may still put you in the position of committing an illegal act if you are impaired by the effects of the medicine and decide to drive.

If you have been charged with DWI or DWAI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area. An attorney can protect your rights, explain your legal options and aggressively defend the drunk driving charges you face.