San Diego DUI Law Center

Have a Hangover? You may be prosecuted for “DUH” – Driving Under the Influence of a Hangover

If anyone has in doubt whether we are on the path to pathetic prohibition, read on.

If you were nauseous, had a throbbing headache, debilitating weakness, lack of focus and sensitivity to light, should you be operating heavy machinery? No!

But if staying alive isn’t enough of a reason to make sure you’re sober enough to get behind the wheel, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey added another incentive — a DUI for driving with a Hangover. DUH!

The court recently extended the class of persons considered “under the influence” to include not only those in whom drugs are active, but also those suffering from drug hangovers.

This means that even if drugs no longer remain in your bloodstream, you could still be arrested for driving under the influence.

It’s an argument that prohibiting post-partyers from cruising the streets may further the purpose of drunk-driving sanctions — keeping dangerous drivers off the road.

Take the case of Franchetta, a 46-year-old businessman, sparked the imposition of this new law.

Cops pulled Franchetta over after speeding and crossing the road’s center line. Officers described him as sluggish, disjointed and having slurred speech. After failing a series of sobriety tests, cops took Franchetta to a local hospital for a blood test. His tests indicated that he was no longer high, but rather that he was “crashing.” In other words, he had a hangover. Cocaine only remains in the bloodstream for a few hours after ingestion, so although Franchetta had no cocaine left in his blood, tests revealed traces of benzolectamine, a metabolite of cocaine, confirming earlier intake. The court reasoned that although the cocaine was inactive, it was the “proximate cause of his impaired behavior.”

Accordingly, the court found Franchetta guilty of driving “under the influence”— not because he was high, but because he was impaired due to his cocaine hangover. The court suspended his license for two years and sentenced him to 30 days of community service.

“Under the influence” has traditionally been defined as when a substance is pharmacologically active in a person’s system. The New Jersey court clearly has expanded this law’s reach.

The defense argues that the court’s newly expanded definition is too liberal and plans to appeal on grounds that conviction under the law requires the drug be active in order to constitute “under the influence.”

The appellate court believes the laws for driving “under the influence” should be expanded in order to force drivers to critically consider their sobriety before getting behind the wheel.

People should always consider their driving capabilities — even after the “high” has worn off. All this law really does is formalize that objective; extending the law will deter party animals from getting behind the wheel unless they’re absolutely certain they’ve sobered up.

Some argue what is the worst that can happen from the law’s new broad reach: Drivers will have to pause for a moment and make sure that they’re really sober before operating heavy machinery? They don’t think it seems outlandish.

Critics of the law’s expansion argue that this holding will lead to incessant liability for drivers, allowing the state to criminalize anything that impairs one’s driving ability the smallest bit.

They reasonably say the opinion is too open ended with no guidance as to where to draw the line. They think this will open the floodgates leading to criminalization for driving with unavoidable daily nuisances, such as migraines, or even allergies.

The assistant prosecutor of Cape May County incredulously explained that the ruling would not likely be extended to even alcohol hangovers, let alone anything else since the after-effects from the two are quite different.

I would go so far as to say that the law will next be expanded to prohibit driving with hangovers from alcohol. That’s just the next logical step for the MADDsters and overzealous legislators. They’ll say someone whose reflexes are as severely impaired from an alcohol hangover as they would be from a drug hangover should be kept off the road — they are just not safe.

According to statistics of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2005, 43,443 people died in traffic accidents. A disturbing 39 percent of those deaths (that’s 16,885 people!) were alcohol related. Expanding the meaning of “under the influence” would make everyone more cautious before getting behind the wheel.

Including hangovers within the meaning of being ‘under the influence’ would create a gray area and not really answer the question many ask: whether chugging a cup of coffee or taking a nap is enough to purge the drugs or alcohol from their system so that they can legally get behind the wheel.

Expansion of the meaning of ‘under the influence’ would generate much debate

According to a 2005 study, there is one alcohol-related fatality every 31 minutes and one alcohol related injury approximately every two minutes. But this has nothing to do with “hangovers.”

So, although the laws thus far have only been expanded in Jersey, criminalizing driving with a drug hangover is a backwards step in the wrong direction.

We gain nothing from preventing people to drive the moment the drug or alcohol doesn’t show up on sobriety tests. People have to get to work and go on with their lives.

Reliable Breathalyzers and trustworthy blood tests should be the only reasonable way to truly detect impairment.

Blowing the legal limit on a breathalyzer certainly proves intoxication according to science and the law, so falling short of the legal limit means you are legally sober and may drive.

If you have the “I shouldn’t have mixed hangover” or the “I shouldn’t have gone out” hangover, you should still be able to get behind the wheel if you are under the legal limit if ,08% BAC. It only makes sense. That’s why we have a legal limit. Hangovers are irrelevant.

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