Drivers with ADHD Can Get Caught in DUI Laws

Ask the ADHD Helpline: A friend recently told me that he knows someone who had to go to court-ordered traffic school because she was convicted of driving under the influence after she told the police officer she was taking ADHD medication at the time of her traffic stop.

She and I take the same medication for ADHD. Now I’m worried about taking my medication and possibly being stopped for a traffic violation. I have to drive to get to work and I live too far away from the grocery store to walk there. Is it legal for me to take my medication and still drive?

—A safe and concerned driver

Helpline Reply: When you apply for a driver’s license you become responsible for knowing and obeying the traffic laws of your state (and any other state in which you travel). The difficulty for drivers can be that the laws are sometimes vague when it comes to the medications for ADHD.

We know that stimulant medication for ADHD significantly improves the driver’s ability to pay attention to traffic on the road and to better follow traffic laws. Experts in the field of ADHD strongly recommend that drivers who have ADHD take their medication as directed before driving. Research has shown repeatedly that when drivers take their ADHD medications as prescribed they have a lower risk of motor vehicle crashes and are less likely to break traffic laws.

Unfortunately, because the stimulant medications most often prescribed for ADHD can have a risk for abuse by some people, many state laws include stimulant medications as “intoxicants” or likely to cause driver impairment under intoxicated driving laws. Some states will allow a driver who carries a doctor’s note to drive while taking medication as prescribed. Other states prohibit driving while stimulant medication is active in your system. A third group of states don’t mention stimulant medications specifically, but their laws can be interpreted by some professionals to include this class of medication, while others don’t share that view of the law. Most often, the laws or how they are implemented leave the decision to write a citation for driving while impaired to the discretion of the police officer conducting traffic stop.

These approaches create confusion in the ADHD community when it comes to taking medication and driving. If you want to know your state’s specific laws regarding medications and driving, contact your state’s department of motor vehicles.

What should you do? First, discuss your concerns with your doctor. It’s possible that your doctor is familiar with your state laws and can offer some guidance, including writing an official note to carry beside your driver’s license if there is ever a question. You may also want to contact your local police department and ask about traffic laws regarding ADHD medication and how those laws are generally applied in your location.

If taking your stimulant medication and driving would put you in violation of the law, discuss treatment options and the timing of when you could take your medication with your doctor. You can also look into other modes of transportation that would be appropriate in your situation.

If you are stopped by the police, be truthful with the officer, but you do not need to volunteer information about your medical treatment, including for ADHD. When you drive and need to bring your medication with you, keep your medication safely tucked away in your purse, luggage, or other travel bags, and keep those bags closed. If you are bringing medications home from the pharmacy, make sure they are discreetly secured in your vehicle and not easily seen through the windows. If you receive a traffic ticket for driving while taking your medication, it’s best to hire an attorney familiar with ADHD treatment to represent you in court. Telling the officer or court on your own, without an attorney, that you have a prescription for the medication is not enough to have a ticket dropped.

If you are concerned about how traffic laws regard ADHD medications in your state, bring your concerns to your local state representatives. Offer your experience as a state resident affected by ADHD and be prepared to share information about ADHD and its treatment with your state representatives.

Looking for additional information?

Do you have a question related to ADHD? You can call our health information specialists Monday through Friday, 1-5 p.m. ET, at 1-866-200-8098.

Join the discussion: What are your concerns about medication and driving?