The review of drink and drug driving laws by Sir Peter North found that there was a “significant problem” resulting in an estimated 200 drug driving deaths in the UK annually.
As a consequence, new drug driving laws came into force on 2 March in the UK which will shake up the system. It is already an offence to be unfit to drive through drink or drugs, of course, but these new laws make it unlawful to drive with certain drugs in the bloodstream or to drive while above a prescribed limit in relation to other named drugs.
Nobody would argue with the government’s objective of improving road safety by outlawing drivers who risk making themselves a danger to others by driving while using drugs, but the inclusion of certain prescription drugs on the list has caused some surprise.
The eight illegal drugs include the usual suspects of heroin, cocaine, cannabinoids and MDMA. The eight prescription drugs on the list where the individual may only drive if below a certain limit include temazepam, lorazepam, diazepam, and morphine. Individuals are going to need medical advice to understand just when they can drive lawfully. Employees who are employed to drive and who are undergoing a course of medicines will need to be particularly careful, with their jobs potentially on the line.
Harsh penalties await individuals who offend – a minimum ban of a year, a fine up to £5,000 and an endorsement on the licence lasting 11 years.
The intention is the police operate these laws in much the same way as drink driving enforcement. But doubts about whether the equipment works, a concern about a lack of training of the police officers who will need to operate the devices, as well as doubts about whether the test results will stand up in court have affected the launch.
Employers operating supply businesses will need to make a decision how to react. They will have employees who are on the road in the course of their employment in a range of circumstances. If such an employee was to fall foul of the law, the employer would need to have thought in advance how they may want to react.
Policies and procedures within the workplace should be set up so that the employer has the necessary flexibility to react as they see fit.
The employer might want to dismiss an employee in those circumstances – for example where he is no longer able to work by reason of a driving ban or where there are insurance problems as a result of a conviction in the past. If the employee has been alerted in advance to the implications of the law and has been made aware of the consequences of infringement as regards their employment, they are really in no place to cry foul if the employer reacts accordingly.
Admiral Insurance has declared it will not insure anyone with a drug driving conviction. Many other insurers may be expected to take a similar line, so once convicted a driver becomes uninsurable. Where insurance is available premiums are likely to be increased considerably in respect of such drivers.
As part of their occupational road risk assessment, supply businesses will need to consider whether they should be conducting their own internal random testing, so as to limit the risk of sending vehicles out onto the road with drivers who are in contravention of the law.
To be effective, employers will need to introduce a clear random drug testing policy. They will need to be sensitive in how they do this. No doubt should be left about the consequences for an employee who fails a test or who refuses to be tested.
The latter might be seen as tantamount to an admission of guilt, of course, but the employer will only be able to take action if the employee has been required to sign up to any such policy and has done so. But running these tests given current concerns about the operation of the equipment could prove difficult.
☛ Crispin Kenyon is a partner at Weightmans