Migraines and cluster headaches are debilitating conditions that don’t just cause pain, but also other symptoms that make many sufferers want to do nothing more than squirrel themselves away in a dark room. Unfortunately, many people simply don’t aren’t able to go into another room when a migraine strikes, but instead have to find a way to get home, which is why they may have to drive despite their pain.
Is Driving With a Migraine Legal?
Few people recognize how many migraine symptoms can be similar to intoxication by drugs and alcohol. But there are actually many symptoms that migraineurs may experience aside from the pain and many are also indications that someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some examples include:
- sensitivity to light and sound
- blurred vision
- tunnel vision (known as aura in clinical terms)
- vertigo and dizziness
- speech problems
In fact, driving under the influence of a migraine might be just as dangerous as driving while drunk or high depending on the severity of symptoms. While it’s not automatically illegal to drive while experiencing a migraine, if the condition makes it so you cannot drive safely, it is illegal. This isn’t the same as driving under the influence of alcohol, but it could still result in a traffic ticket and if you have chronic migraines, cluster headaches or a have history of driving unsafely while experiencing symptoms, the DMV may review the status of your driving privileges to determine if your license should be suspended because you cannot drive safely with your condition.
As an example, if you are simply experiencing moderate pain and mild sensitivity to light, you could safely drive without any problems. If you are experiencing severe visual disturbances though, it would absolutely be illegal to drive because you could not be expected to do so safely.
Driving Under the Influence of Migraine Medicines
One thing many people do not realize is that you can still get a DUI for driving under the influence of a legally prescribed medication. Explaining that you are taking a prescription medication to the police is not actually a defense to DUI charges, but instead can be seen as a confession. That being said, it’s not illegal to drive under the influence of all medications -only those that negatively affect your ability to drive.
This means that if you are taking aspirin or Botox to treat your condition, you shouldn’t have any problems. On the other hand, pain medications like Oxycontin and alternative treatments like medical marijuana, are absolutely illegal to use before driving. In between these two extremes are triptans such as Imitrex, Relpax and Maxalt, which may cause drowsiness and dizziness, but not affect someone severely enough to stop them from driving safely. The basic rule is do not drive with any medication or substances that can affect your ability to drive.
Symptoms Could be Red Flags to Police
A quick review of the symptoms caused by migraines will make it obvious why police could easily mistake these symptoms with signs of intoxication of alcohol or drugs. When police see signs of potential intoxication such as vomiting, poor driving (caused by vision or mental impairments), slurred speech, use of sunglasses when it’s not bright outside and more, they may ask someone suffering from a migraine to submit to sobriety tests, a breathalyzer or a blood test.
Though many officers will be sympathetic and disinclined to perform these tests if someone says they are suffering from a migraine, they may suspect the driver is lying and still insist they take these tests. Alternatively, if the driver says they took a medication for their migraine attack, the officer may take this as a sign that the driver is being negatively impacted by the drug and this could influence them to further their investigation.
Migraines and Field Sobriety Tests
It is never a good idea to submit to field sobriety tests because these are optional DUI tests that merely provide the police with additional evidence against a driver they suspect is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These tests are particularly bad for those suffering from a migraine as the pain and visual disturbances may make it difficult for them to pass the horizontal gaze nystagmus, and their nausea, vertigo and dizziness could make the walk and turn test and one legged stand all but impossible.
The Impact of Chemical Tests
Of course, those driving with a migraine who have not taken any prescriptions will be unlikely to fail any chemical tests. If the migraine was triggered by the use of an illegal drug though, this may appear in the driver’s blood test even if he was no longer under the influence of the drug at the time when he was arrested. This is where a good DUI defense lawyer can come in hand, working to show that the drug was no longer affecting the driver at the time, but that he was instead suffering the negative affects of a migraine that was caused by the drug.
When the driver has taken a medication for the migraine, it’s possible that the drug may show up in a blood test. In these cases, this could serve as further evidence that she was driving under the influence of a prescription that affected her driving. In this case, her defense attorney may argue that while a medication could impact someone’s driving, it was not affecting the defendant at the time she was driving.
There are many nuances in a DUI case, particularly those complicated by a medical condition. If you have been accused of driving under the influence, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.