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Cold and allergy season is coming: What drivers need to remember

Fall is already on its way, and the goldenrod and ragweed are already blooming. Cold and flu season, too, are already ramping up.

For a lot of folks, that means resorting to over-the-counter medications to try to keep their symptoms under control enough that they can continue to function. However, you need to be cautious: Your cold and allergy medications could lead to an impaired driving charge.

The law doesn’t care what intoxicant you’re using

If you’re like most people, you wouldn’t think twice about admitting to an officer who pulls you over that you might have been weaving, turning wide or nearly asleep at the wheel because you haven’t adjusted to your cold or allergy medication – but that’s a big mistake.

Under the law, you’re guilty of operating a motor vehicle under the influence (OUI) if you are using any “intoxicant.” That can include both legal prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, not just alcohol and illicit drugs. 

Even if you’ve used them before, your body may need time to adjust again to any antihistamines before you know if it’s safe to drive on them. Similarly, decongestants can also make drivers unfocused and sleepy. You should also consider any daily medication changes you may have had since the last time you took allergy or cold medication since the interaction between medications can sometimes intensify their sedating or intoxicating effects.

If you are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving after taking cold or allergy medicine, it’s wisest to remember that you cannot lie to a police officer during an investigation – but you can decline to answer their questions. That’s the surest way to give your defense a good start.