It’s widely known that NyQuil and other cold medicines like Robitussin or Vicks Formula 44 contain alcohol, so people often wonder if they risk getting a DUI just for driving with a cold. It’s a fair question, especially considering that just having a fever can increase your BAC up to 9%. So should you be concerned about your use of NyQuil and breathalyzer results if you’re sick? It’s certainly something to keep in mind before driving with a cold.
NyQuil and Breathalyzer Results
The good news is that using the recommended amount of NyQuil, ZzzQuil or other cold medicines should not put most people over the legal limit to drive. That’s because while NyQuil and ZzzQuil contain 10% alcohol (making these as strong as wine) and a few cold medications even contain 20% alcohol (making them as strong many flavored liquors), the recommended dose of these medications is nowhere near the same as that of a glass of wine and should be nowhere near enough to leave you intoxicated.
That being said, the legal limit for those under 21 is 0.01%, so if you are under the legal drinking age, it’s best to avoid using any cold medication that contains alcohol because if you take NyQuil and are given a breathalyzer test, you could easily fail.
To make matters worse, many people who are ill avoid eating and have a fever, both of which can make your BAC show up much higher on the breathalyzer. So if the only thing you have in your stomach is NyQuil and a breathalyzer test is administered, you’ll could fail the test, especially if you are a little on the lean side.
The Problem of Mouth Alcohol
If you just took NyQuil shortly before driving, the problem is greater if you are asked to take a portable breathalyzer. That’s because these are often administered within 15 minutes of the time alcohol has been consumed, meaning you may still have some of the actual liquid in your mouth or esophagus, which can result in a falsely high breathalyzer rating. This is both why you should always refuse to take the optional Portable Alcohol Screening (PAS) and why officers administering real breathalyzers are supposed to wait 15 minutes before administering the breath test. It is worth noting that PAS device testing is not optional for minors and there is no 15 minute waiting period before taking a PAS.
If you think the amount of time between when you took NyQuil and the breathalyzer was less than 15 minutes, be sure to mention this information to your DUI lawyer because it could provide him with a valid reason to challenge the results of your breath test.
NyQuil and Ignition Interlock Devices
One more thing to keep in mind in the realm of NyQuil and breathalyzers is the breath sample many people who have received a DUI must provide in their ignition interlock device (IID) before driving their vehicle. Because those on probation will have their IID set to 0.029%, it is possible to go over this limit by drinking nothing more than cold medicine, especially if you took the medication on an empty stomach shortly before driving.
Since IIDs are used as part of a probation agreement in which you most likely agreed to not drink at all, failing a test on this device could result in a violation of your probation. While your probation defense attorney can help you fight against additional penalties, the probation officer will usually argue that you should have known the medication contained alcohol and that you violated your probation by drinking it prior to driving.
You Can Get a DUI for Driving on NyQuil
One final thing to know about NyQuil and breathalyzers is that even if your BAC is below the legal limit, you can still get a DUI if the police officer believes your driving was negatively impaired by the use of a medication -whether or not it is a commonly used over the counter drug. In many cases, these charges can be reduced to a wet reckless charge, but it is still best to simply avoid driving after drinking NyQuil or other cold medication, especially one designed to induce drowsiness.
If you have been accused of driving under the influence of alcohol after taking a cold medication, or if you have any other questions about NyQuil and breathalyzer tests, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.
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