Gas and propellants found in spray cans, for example, aren’t controlled substances, but huffing, or breathing in the gas, can produce mind-altering effects, Shapiro said. Many over-the-counter medicines can also cause problems for drivers if abused, he said.
“Taking one tablespoon of Vicks NyQuil might not be an issue when driving for some people,” Shapiro said. “But drinking a whole bottle, like some teenagers do at (parties), can cause impairment. You’re not supposed to be driving under the influence of anything that impairs your ability to drive.”
Russman worries the detection methods police use to judge sobriety are not sophisticated enough to protect defendants’ rights concerning substances other than alcohol, which most breathing and field sobriety tests are intended to detect, he said.
“I don’t believe the tools in place for law enforcement are sufficient to make the determination about impairment caused by drugs,” Russman said. “Who’s to say the amount of drug in a person’s system is the reason for a perceived impairment?”
Mendes, who is Seabrook’s police prosecutor, said when it comes to providing evidence to the judge to determine proof of impairment, the arresting officer plays a large role.
“Primarily, it would be the arresting officer’s experience and observations that we’d bring to court,” Mendes said.
Under the revised law, the fines for first-time offenders found guilty of DUI remain the same at $500, with a $120 fee for penalty assessment. License suspensions are also the same, with a minimum of nine months loss of license to a maximum of two years, depending on the circumstances.
In the past, those convicted could earn their licenses back in 90 days if they completed the state’s 20-hour Impaired Driver Intervention Program, either in weekly sessions for $300 or a weekend program for $485, which includes room and board.