Most people understand that drunk driving is dangerous, in part because of both media attention to the issue and social awareness campaigns by nonprofit organizations. However, alcohol isn’t the only substance that can impair your ability to drive.

Most illegal drugs, from marijuana to LSD, can also make it very dangerous to get behind the wheel. Prescription medication, even if used as ordered by a doctor, can also affect someone’s ability to drive safely. Even over-the-counter medications can leave someone drowsy or otherwise impaired at the wheel.

While you may carefully follow instructions when taking a medication, if you get behind the wheel of a car, you could end up facing criminal charges. Virginia has laws in place that specifically criminalize drugged driving, as well as drunk driving. You may face similar penalties to someone dealing with a driving under the influence (DUI) charge. That could mean losing your license and facing jail time, as well as serious fines.

Just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe to take while driving

A lot of people mistakenly believe that prescription and over-the-counter medications are safe to take when they drive. That simply isn’t the case. Many drugs can impair your focus, your awareness and even your ability to stay awake. Others can impact your vision or decision-making abilities.

With prescription medications, drugs that are known to cause issues will typically have a warning label or advice about driving in the informational pamphlet. They may have a sticker on the side of the bottle that advises patients not to drive cars or operate heavy machinery after taking the drug.

Over-the-counter medications may not have the same warnings. Sleeping pills, allergy and cold medication and other syrups and pills available over the counter could impair someone’s driving significantly. It is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to these kinds of medications.

Try to determine if a drug impairs you

Your best option for legal safety when taking over-the-counter or prescription medications is to choose not to drive immediately after taking something. You may need a week or two to determine how your body handles the medication. This is particularly true for pain medication, sedatives and drugs meant to help you sleep.

Give yourself some leeway, and ask friends or family members to drive you places when necessary. Doing this helps ensure that you know the effects of the drug and won’t inadvertently pose a danger to others behind the wheel.

If you made the mistake of getting behind the wheel while under the influence of a medication, getting caught could mean serious penalties. It’s important that you look very carefully at your situation and explore all of your options for defending yourself against allegations of driving while under the influence of drugs in Virginia.