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Los Angeles DUI and Sleep Medications


Los Angeles DUI and Sleep Medications

Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal and dangerous. But many folks don’t realize that driving after taking certain prescription sleep medications can also lead to a DUI charge. Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, and other sedative-hypnotic sleep meds can make you drowsy and impair your driving, even if you feel wide awake.

In this article, we’ll look at how sleep meds like Ambien can cause “sleep driving,” the laws around DUI of prescription pills in California, and your best defenses if charged with a sleeping pill DUI in Los Angeles.

How Sleep Medications Impair Driving

Prescription sleeping pills like zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta) are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. They work by slowing down brain activity to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep.

But these sedative-hypnotics also cause side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and poor coordination. They impair your motor skills, reaction time, judgment, and ability to concentrate–all skills needed for safe driving.

Even if you don’t feel sleepy after taking Ambien, you could still be cognitively impaired. Studies show that zolpidem can affect people’s ability to stay awake and alert for up to 8 hours after taking it.

Under California law, driving under the influence doesn’t require intoxication from alcohol. Being impaired by any drug, legal or not, can get you a DUI if it affects your ability to drive safely.

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Sleep Driving on Ambien

Besides drowsiness, Ambien can also trigger complex sleep behaviors like sleepwalking, sleep eating, and “sleep driving.” People take Ambien at night but then get up and drive their car with no memory of it the next morning.

Zolpidem has been linked to numerous reports of “sleep driving” where the driver was actually asleep. They drove competently for miles but had total amnesia of the event.

This parasomnia side effect is rare but very dangerous. Sleep driving on Ambien often ends in traffic accidents, DUI arrests, or even fatalities.

California DUI Laws for Prescription Drugs

In California, driving under the influence of any drug that impairs your ability is illegal. It doesn’t matter if the drug is legal, like Ambien with a prescription. Nor does it matter if you took the medication as prescribed.

Under California Vehicle Code 23152(e), it is unlawful for a person to drive if they are addicted to a drug or “under the influence” of any drug.

To prove a prescription medication DUI, the prosecutor has to show:

  • You took a drug that could impair driving
  • The drug did impair your ability to drive safely
  • Your driving was actually impaired by the drug’s effects

The drug does NOT need to be illegal, just potentially impairing. Common prescription medications charged in California DUIs include:

  • Opioid painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin
  • Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan
  • Z-drugs like Ambien (zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Muscle relaxers such as Soma, Flexeril
  • Stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin
  • Antidepressants including Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin
  • Marijuana, which is legal with a doctor’s recommendation

Penalties for Prescription Drug DUI

The penalties for driving under the influence of prescription medications are the same as for alcohol DUIs in California. They include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Fines up to $1,000 plus penalties
  • Driver’s license suspension up to 1 year
  • Probation up to 5 years
  • DUI classes
  • Ignition interlock device

A second or subsequent offense carries stiffer penalties like 10 days to 1 year in jail. A fourth DUI within 10 years is a felony in California.

Defenses for Sleep Medication DUI

Just because you took Ambien or other prescription sleep aids doesn’t mean you’ll be convicted of driving under the influence. An experienced DUI lawyer can raise several defenses to beat the charges, such as:

No Impairment

The prosecutor must prove your driving was actually impaired by the sleep medication. Side effects like drowsiness can vary widely among patients. You may have had no problem driving safely after taking your normal dose of Ambien.

Lack of Intent

For a criminal DUI conviction, the state must prove you had the necessary “criminal intent” to drive under the influence. But sleep medications like Ambien have been linked to unconscious behaviors like sleep driving. Since you weren’t conscious or in control behind the wheel, you may lack the intent required for a crime.

No Driving

To convict you of a drugged driving DUI, the state has to prove you were actually driving. You may have slept in your parked car after taking Ambien. Or someone else was driving your car while you slept in the passenger seat.

Police Mistakes

Like alcohol DUI investigations, prescription drug cases often involve police mistakes. The traffic stop may have been illegal or your DUI evaluation was improperly conducted. Field sobriety tests aren’t designed to detect drug impairment.

A skilled DUI lawyer can get evidence thrown out if you were coerced or your rights were violated. Police mistakes could lead to a reduction or dismissal of charges.

Finding Help for a Sleep Medication DUI in Los Angeles

Being arrested for driving under the influence of prescription sleep aids can be scary. But an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney can help you understand the charges and build a strong defense.

Don’t take chances by hiring an inexperienced lawyer or trying to represent yourself. The consequences of a drugged driving conviction are too steep.

At Kraut Law Group, we’ve successfully defended hundreds of complex prescription drug DUI cases. We know how to attack the prosecution’s evidence and get charges reduced or dismissed. With an office in Los Angeles and over 40 years of criminal defense experience, we have the skills to win your case.

For a free consultation on your Ambien or other sleep medication DUI in LA, call us 24/7 at (888) 334-6344 or complete our online form. The call and case review are completely confidential.


[1] Los Angeles DUI and Sleep Medications – Kraut Law Group Criminal & DUI Lawyers

[2] DUI Of Sleeping Pills (Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Rozerem) – Shouse Law

[3] DUI Ambien or Sleeping Pills – Orange County Attorneys

[4] The Sleep Driving Defense For DUI Ambian & Other Sleeping Pills – Aizman Law Firm

[5] Untitled

[6] Zolpidem Ingestion, Automatisms, and Sleep Driving: A Clinical and Legal Case Series – PMC – NCBI

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