Can you be arrested under Tennessee law for taking Ambien while driving? The short answer is yes. Under Tennessee's DUI law, one can be charged even with a valid prescription from a doctor. T.C.A. 55-10-401 (1) sets forth, "Under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, controlled substance, controlled substance analogue, substance affecting the central nervous system, or combination thereof that impairs the driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle...." Ambien is a central nervous system depressant. It is not a defense to a Tennessee DUI charge to have a valid prescription pursuant to T.C.A 55-10-411(e).
The critical question is, does Ambien alone impair one's ability to drive? First, zolpidem is the active drug in Ambien. Zolpidem shortens sleep latency and prolongs total sleep time in patients with insomnia. There is no concentration level that makes it illegal to drive a car. The duration of the effects last 4-5 hours. One additional factor is tolerance. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration's Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets, tolerance may develop after chronic use.
What should you do if you have been charged with DUI from Ambien or prescription drugs? You should contact a lawyer who has an understanding of the drug's pharmacodynamic and pharmakinetic effects on the human body. Always request the measurement of uncertainty from the forensic crime lab. No lab result is certain. Remember, a DUI conviction has long-ranging consequences.