A California Man Has Been Charged With Driving Under The Influence – Of Caffeine

A California man has been charged with driving under the influence of caffeine, in a first-of-its-kind case that has just about everybody involved in the case shaking their heads, according to a report by the Guardian.

When you drive to work Monday morning, odds are pretty good that well over half of the drivers sharing the road with you will be “under the influence” of caffeine, considering that Americans guzzle coffee like they’re not making it any more. And on August 5, 2015, Joseph Schwab, not unlike any other driver on the road that day, had knocked back a couple of coffees (or teas or sodas; it doesn’t really matter) before driving home from work.

DUI Caffeine
How many drivers on the road *aren't* on caffeine? [Image by Lithiumphoto/Shutterstock]

Schwab made the mistake of cutting another driver off – something we’ve all done from time to time, whether “under the influence” or not. Unfortunately for Schwab, the driver he cut off was none other than an agent from the California department of alcoholic beverage control, who was driving an unmarked car. The agent would later claim that Schwab was driving “erratically.”

Schwab was pulled over, arrested, and taken downtown for a Breathalyzer test, which he passed with flying colors (he blew 0.00%, which is about as “not drunk” as a person can be). Cops drew a blood sample and sent it off to a lab for analysis. It came back negative for benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana), carisoprodol (a muscle relaxant), methamphetamine, MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly), oxycodone, and zolpidem – in other words, just about the entire spectrum of recreational drugs that can impair a driver.

The only “drug” present in Schwab’s system was caffeine.

DUI Caffeine
This is what a caffeine molecule looks like, in case you were wondering. [Image by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock]

At this point in this article, we’re going to take a brief break from the narrative to answer a burning question: can caffeine impair your ability to drive? The answer is: probably, but you’d have to drink an awful lot of it.

Acording to Avrek Law, drinking two or so cups of coffee probably isn’t going to affect your ability to drive; in fact, it may even make you a better driver. Caffeine increases alertness and helps fight off sleep. But as they say, all things in moderation. Drink too much coffee, and you’re going to be exhibiting some nasty symptoms – symptoms that will certainly impair your ability to drive. Those symptoms include dizziness, blurred vision, and vomiting, to name a few.

However, caffeine, like any drug, affects each person differently. So one person’s morning routine (it takes me three cups of coffee before I’m even able to knock out a coherent sentence at this job) is another person’s danger zone.

Back to Schwab: prosecutors, apparently wanting to charge the driver with something, charged him with Driving Under the Influence. Of caffeine.

By just about any measure, prosecutors are going to have a difficult time getting those charges to stick. For one thing, the prosecutor would have to convince a jury that it was the caffeine in his system that caused him to drive erratically. For another, says forensic toxicologist Jeffrey Zehnder, charging someone with DUI for drinking caffeine is just… really stupid.

“It’s really stupid.”

There’s also a technicality that may also get Schwab off the hook: Schwab’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss his case because prosecutors waited nearly ten months – until June of 2016 – to bring criminal charges against him.

If that motion is denied, Schwab will go before a jury on January 11, where he will be the first defendant that anyone is aware of who has ever been criminally charged for driving under the influence of caffeine.

[Featured Image by Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock]