Could Too Much Caffeine Lead To A DUI Charge? (Apparently, Yes)

Posted on: 26 January 2017

If there is one thing that attorneys probably can't stress enough, it's that driving under the influence of any substance—including legal ones—that affects your ability to drive safely can result in a DUI charge. In a case out of California, caffeine, which is something many people forget is actually considered a drug, has become the focus of a DUI case. If you're someone who chain drinks coffee and has a cup in your hand at all times, this is what you should know.

Does caffeine really have that much of an affect?

According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 75% of children, teens, and young adults use the drug daily in the form of soda, energy drinks, tea, and coffee. For adults, the stats are even higher: 9 out of 10 use caffeine to get them through the day.

Caffeine is a stimulant that blocks adenosine, a chemical in the brain that causes sleepiness. While it might seem like that's something that would be beneficial for someone to have before they get on the road, too much of the drug can cause you to get jumpy, jittery, and even make your heart race. Chronic overuse can interfere with your ability to sleep altogether, which could lead to drowsy driving, despite the help of the strongest double-expresso shot you can find.

In addition, there's another problem with relying on caffeine to pull you through when your driving: caffeine can help tired people accomplish a task faster, but only if the task is relatively straightforward and doesn't require a lot of thought. Driving is actually a complex action, requiring a lot of decisions every second of the way, which means that drivers wired on caffeine could be sacrificing quality for speed. 

What would cause a driver to be pulled over for suspicion of DUI on caffeine?

The driver that's the focus of the DUI case in California was pulled over for the exact same thing that any other driver might be pulled over as a suspected DUI case: he was driving erratically. He happened to cut off an officer from the California department of alcoholic beverage control and was given a breathalyzer test, which showed no alcohol in his system. However, the officer was still convinced that the driver was under the influence of something, so the driver was obliged to submit to a blood test. The only drug found in his system was caffeine. 

According to the district attorney's office, the DUI charge (which the judge refused to dismiss) isn't based on the caffeine in the defendant's system, but the attorney defending him says that no other substance has been identified or suggested as the culprit—which means that, for now, that's the only charge his attorney can really address.

The takeaway from a case like this is to remember that you can be charged with a crime for just about anything that interferes with your ability to drive safely. People have been charged for driving while eating, using a handheld phone, tinkering with the radio, or still being under the influence of sleeping medication they took the night before. It pays to be cautious, so if you feel like you aren't focused enough to drive (whether from caffeine or any other reason), consider asking a friend for a lift. If you do get charged for a DUI or reckless driving, consider consulting with an attorney at a law firm like Fessenden Laumer & DeAngelo, PLLC in your area.

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