Kerry Kennedy recently ran her vehicle into a truck and continued driving. She was soon found slumped over the steering wheel, and she was unable to remember what happened, as reported by ABC News. Kennedy said it was possible she accidentally took Ambien that morning rather than a thyroid pill. She also said an examination by her doctors revealed she had a seizure. Kennedy was charged with driving under the influence of drugs and has pled not guilty. Her crash raises questions regarding driving under the influence of Ambien.
Ambien, the brand name for Zolpidem, is a sedative-hypnotic drug used to treat insomnia by slowing activity in the brain to allow sleep. It is intended to be taken just before sleeping, as "you will probably become very sleepy soon after you take zolpidem and will remain sleepy for some time after you take the medication", according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. As cautioned by the F.D.A., "After taking Zolpidem Tartate Tablets, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night."
In Ohio D.U.I.(O.V.I.) cases, Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19 says no person shall operate a vehicle if the person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them. Ambien is considered a drug of abuse, so a person could be found guilty of O.V.I. in Ohio for driving under the influence of Ambien.
On the other hand, a driver's use of Ambien may present an Ohio D.U.I. lawyer with a defense to an O.V.I. charge. Ohio Revised Code section 2901.21 says that a person is not guilty of an offense unless the person's conduct was a voluntary act. That section also says "reflexes, convulsions, body movements during unconsciousness or sleep, and body movements that are not otherwise a product of the actor's volition, are involuntary acts." It is questionable whether a person affected by Ambien is acting voluntarily when they may "do an activity that you do not know you are doing."
Kerry Kennedy's accident raises questions about the danger of driving under the influence of Ambien. One question is, from a policy perspective, what do we do about it? Is driving while affected by Ambien an offense, or is it a defense to an offense? It will be interesting to see how the Kerry Kennedy case plays out.