Drink and Drugs –
Organisation and constant vigilance required
Drink and drug driving laws, always a hot topic, are especially in focus at the moment with new legislation imminent concerning drug classification and driver testing, as well as the introduction of the new drink driving limits in Scotland at the beginning of the month. Operators and drivers need to be aware of the laws and hopefully this article will help you stay within those confines.
Know your rights
Before an employer can test an employee for drink or drugs, they must notify the employee of their intentions and obtain consent, there is no legal requirement, however for you to provide advance notice of intent. It is highly recommended that the employer has a drink and drug testing policy as part of the Employee Handbook or Contract of Employment. This should outline how and when you conduct alcohol and drug tests and what happens in the event of an employee failing it. If these subject matters aren’t covered in either of the documents, then you may not be legally entitled to impose the test. If the tests are conducted without the consent of the driver, then the results may not be used in any form of disciplinary procedure. Generally, workers can’t be forced to take a test but if they refuse when there are good grounds for testing, they may face disciplinary action.
According to the Government’s website, employers should:
- limit testing to employees that need to be tested.
- ensure the tests are random.
- not single out particular employees for testing unless this is justified by the nature of their jobs.
The last point is particularly relevant in the case of drivers and providing that you have reasonable grounds to test employees (e.g., due to the nature of the work) and the policy states it will select people randomly, selection must be genuinely random. If you were to single someone out for a test without valid justification, you may find yourself up against a claim of unfair discrimination, however, in the case of driver screening, it is covered under a number of employment acts.
Under the Road Traffic Act and the Transport and Works Act, drivers of road vehicles must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol whilst driving, attempting to drive or when in charge of a vehicle.
The Health and Safety at Work Act specifies that the employer has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees and develop a health and safety policy. Section 7 of the Act requires employees to take reasonable care of the health and safety of themselves and others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work, whilst the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations say employers should conduct risk assessments –which would include the use or presence of drugs and alcohol at work, if there appears to be a risk to workers.
Changes in the Law
The Government has announced that it has approved recommended drug drive limits for 16 substances as it readies for the introduction of the first ever drug drive test, which was due to be introduced this autumn. Once in place, it will be an offence to drive with one of the specified drugs in the body above the pre-determined limit set. Following the news, former Roads Minister, Stephen Hammond, put forward proposals on the drugs to be included in the legislation and the limits to be specified. These include eight general prescription drugs and eight recreational drugs.
As from earlier this month, Scotland reduced their drink driving limits to 50mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood and 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath. This is a significant reduction from the rest of the UK which is currently 80mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood and 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath. This will bring Scotland’s limits closer to those of the rest of Europe, where limits range from zero tolerance to the previous rates. The general standard in Europe is 0.5 mg per ml, but there are wide variances from country to country. The UK, along with Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta have the highest tolerance levels.
Drink, drugs and driving: the law
It’s illegal to drive if you’re unfit to do so because you’ve taken legal or illegal drugs or are under the influence of alcohol. You don’t have to be on illegal drugs to be on the wrong side of the law, many prescription or over-the-counter drugs can also impair your ability to drive. If you’re on prescription drugs and not sure whether you are within the legal guidelines, it is strongly recommended that you discuss this with a doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional before driving. If you have a known alcohol/drug dependency or drinking related health issue, you must inform the DVLA. Non-compliance could result in a fine of up to £1,000 and you may be prosecuted if you’re involved in an accident as a result. Form DR1V should be completed and returned to the DVLA for assessment.
The penalties for driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs can include large fines, driving bans, a criminal record, the offence remaining on your driving licence for years and ultimately, imprisonment.
Alcohol testing kits
Prevention is the key here and I spoke to David Whittock, Director of Alcolock GB, who sells alcohol testing kits which are pre-set to the alcohol limit of the country where sold. These can be adjusted to suit the company’s own alcohol and drug policy and it is not unusual for a larger operator, such as National Express, to set a much stricter limit.
We see consistently in our business that it is often the smaller operators that don’t always have the time and knowledge to have additional procedures in place. As mentioned earlier, it isn’t a legal requirement to have a drink and drug testing policy, but it is extremely good practice.
As the name suggests, the Alcolock system works by preventing the engine from starting unless an approved breath reading has been taken. Although the initial unit cost is around the £600 mark, the investment needed by a medium-large operator to install in all the vehicles could be quite substantial. With this in mind, there is another unit available whereby each driver would be individually identified by either a built in tacho reader or identity card system, which could be adapted to suit the individual operation. The breathalyser would then become part of their ‘clocking on’ procedures and access to vehicles would be prohibited in the event of a fail.
Calibration of the units on an annual basis is usually sufficient but a larger operator may opt for every six months. The only additional costs incurred would be for the individual mouth pieces. Employers can also monitor their employees’ drinking ‘habits’ by a back office system which links in to the Alcolock website. This is a great tool for performance management and implementing disciplinary procedures where relevant. Likewise, they can be notified of a real time breathalyser fail from a driver as it happens on the road, so that a contingency plan can be put in to place.
Drug testing kits
Drug testing equipment is commonly found in the workplace across America but less so in the UK. New products are making their way on to the market as ‘on-the-spot’ drug testing capabilities are now available through technologies that were previously only available to law enforcement agencies. These can test saliva for a number of known drugs and within minutes produce an accurate reading – no need for retaining samples and sending them off for testing or having to collect blood or urine samples. An example of such a company is Drager whose products have been approved by American and German drug enforcement agencies.
Findings from the 2013/14 Crime Survey for England and Wales on drug misuse have shown that, overall, drug use is on the decline over the long term but during the period of the survey, there has been a slight upturn. It also highlighted the following trends:
Younger people are more likely to take drugs than older people. The level of any drug use in the last year was highest among 16 to 19 year olds (19.3%). The level of drug use was much lower in the oldest age group covered by this part of the survey (1.5% of 55 to 59 year olds).
The average age of drug users has risen since 1996. The average age of people using an illicit drug in the last 12 months has increased from 26.6 years in 1996 to 29.3 years in 2013 to 2014.
Men are more likely to take drugs than women. Approximately one-in-eight (11.8%) men had taken an illegal drug in the last year, compared with 5.8% of women.
People living in urban areas reported higher levels of drug use than those living in rural areas. Around a tenth (9.3%) of people living in urban areas had used a drug compared with 6.5% of those living in rural areas.
Higher levels of drug use are associated with increased frequency of visits to pubs, bars and nightclubs. Use of any class A drug was around eight times higher among those who had visited a nightclub at least four times in the past month (17.1%) compared with those who had not visited a nightclub in the past month (2.0%). A similar pattern was found for those visiting pubs and bars more frequently.
As Christmas approached, police officers across Europe instigated a week long campaign last week to raise awareness of the dangers of drink driving and drug driving. The campaign was co-ordinated by TISPOL (the European Traffic Police Network), and involved highly visible officers conducting alcohol and drug checks at any time of the day and night.
President of TISPOL, Aidan Reid warned, ‘Driving after consuming any alcohol is dangerous. Driving while over the drink drive limit is against the law. Drivers will experience slower reactions, poor judgement of speed, reduced co-ordination and concentration with much lower levels of alcohol in their system. That’s why our message this year is simple: your ability to drive safely is impaired by even a small amount of alcohol. So if you have had a drink, do not drive. If you need to drive, then do not drink.’ On the subject of drug consumption he commented, ‘If you have used recreational drugs, then do not drive. If you are taking medicine, whether prescribed or purchased over the counter, then read the notes of advice that go with it. If these tell you not to drive after taking the medicine, then do not drive.
Sarah Claypole Head of Safety at First commented, ‘Every month 10% of our workforce is randomly checked, with the exception of December and January where we test 20% of colleagues.
Compliance with the alcohol and drugs policy is treated very seriously by all at First especially as we have so many safety critical roles such as drivers and mechanics. The policy is working well, however, we cannot be complacent hence our increase in testing for alcohol during the end of year festive period’. A spokeswoman for National Express Dundee said of their drug and drink policy, ‘We have in place a robust system for testing our workforce regularly at random for alcohol and drugs. Our company alcohol limit is even lower than the reduced limit set for the general public recently by the Scottish Government and helps ensure our drivers maintain a very high standard of safety.’
There is a wealth of information out there; sometimes it’s just a case of knowing where to look.
For useful information on drink and drug awareness and the law visit:
www.drinkaware.co.uk or www.gov.co.uk/drink-drive-limit or /drug-driving-limit
Information regarding employment law and guidelines can be found at
or by downloading the ACAS leaflet from the www.acas.org.uk website.