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Oregon DUII Law May Expand Definition of Intoxicant

Oregon DUII law may be expanded to drivers impaired by over-the-counter medication. The new Bill, House Bill 2491, “expands offense of driving while under influence of intoxicants to include any substance that adversely affects person’s physical or mental faculties to noticeable or perceptible degree,” according to the Bill submitted earlier this week.

The new law would expand the definition of an ‘intoxicant’ to cover commonly abused drugs, such as Nyquil and Robitussin.

Chuck Hayes, chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on DUII, spoke in support of House Bill 2491 to the House Judiciary Committee on Monday and why explained why Oregon should adopt this change.

“Right now if a driver is stopped on the highway for bad driving and there is some probable cause that person is under the influence, then if that (non-controlled substance) is the only substance that is causing the impairment,” explained Hayes. “Then that person cannot be convicted because it does not fall within our definition of an intoxicant presently in the state of Oregon”

Hayes, a former Oregon State Police Officer, recounted three confrontations with impaired drivers on Oregon roads, who turned out to be impaired by non-controlled substances. Each driver eventually cleared the limited Oregon DUII laws. Hayes also pointed out to the committee that 40 of the 50 states now have DUI statutes in place that include intoxication from non-controlled substances. Hayes says this legislative trend is in response to the escalation in abuse of these readily available drugs, especially by young drivers.

Hayes’ examples included two drivers who were charged with a DUII in Portland and another in Albany, Oregon. These drivers displayed common characteristics of impaired driving, including slurred speech and lethargy. None of the drivers were even capable of performing standard sobriety tests. However, each driver registered a .00 BAC, and their DUII charges were dropped.

Other states, including Washington, have realized multiple benefits from expanding the definition of ‘intoxicant’ in their DUI law. Law makers in Washington state, which adopted a similar amendment to their DUI law in 1997, say they have benefit from safer roads, and the opportunity to help citizens with addictions to these drugs through court-ordered counseling programs. These states can also raise awareness, through PSAs and other initiatives, of the abuse of these drugs by demonstrating they can cause impairment equal to excessive alcohol abuse.

Hayes anticipates criticism from those who believe the new law will overreach and convict innocent drivers who suffer from unintended impairment from prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

Hayes defends the expansion of the Oregon DUI law by pointing out that all of these drugs come with clearly labeled warnings and instructions to avoid intoxication. He outlines one incident where a driver who had forgotten his anti-depressant medication in Portland after leaving town, returned, and compensated by ingesting five days worth of his medication, even though the medication bottle adorned a warning against this kind of use. The driver ended up weaving between traffic lanes on I-5 before being stopped by police and charged with a DUII that was later dropped.

“It comes back to responsible use and awareness,” Hayes concluded.

Gilroy & Napoli are DUII Attorneys in Lake Oswego, Oregon. They do not claim support or disapproval of the proposed law, but only strive to educate the public of developing news related to DUII law in Oregon. If you are charged with a DUI in Oregon, contact Gilroy & Napoli for more information on defending your DUI.