Fleet risk: Alcohol and drugs
With multiple influencing factors, varying guidelines and severe penalties for drivers, developing a clear, consistent drink and drug policy is vital for fleet managers. Here’s why.
It might sound surprising that you need company policies about driving under the influence. After all, there are laws in place to address these issues, with significant penalties if people fail to follow them.
However, the value of these policies is that you can take steps to protect your company before your drivers break the law – and if the worst ever happens, you can show that you did everything you could to avoid it.
What are the risks of drink and drug driving?
Alcohol and drugs can both impair drivers’ judgement and co-ordination, which increases the risk of an accident. They were a contributing factor in almost 2,800 serious and fatal injuries in 2021, and the police can carry out roadside checks if they believe drivers are under the influence.
That high level of risk is reflected by the severity of the penalties imposed by magistrates, which can include:
- A 12-month driving ban
- Unlimited fines
- Up to six months in prison
- A criminal record
- 11 penalty points, valid for 11 years
There are also penalties for drivers who are ‘in charge of’ a vehicle while under the influence of drink and drugs, even if they are not at the wheel.
What are the legal limits for alcohol?
The UK’s alcohol limits were set in 1967 and haven’t been adjusted since. Drivers can be tested at up to 35μg/100ml of breath, 80μg/100ml in blood and 107 μg/100ml of urine. Scotland introduced stricter limits (35μg for breath, 80μg for blood and 67μg for urine) in 2014, but England, Wales and Northern Ireland have not followed suit.
There is no accurate way for drivers to calculate the amount of alcohol in their system, nor how quickly they metabolise it, without taking a breath test. According to AlcoSense, almost a fifth (17.8%) of drivers convicted of drink driving were caught the morning after they had been drinking.
What are the rules with prescription drugs?
Legal limits for drugs (measured within the bloodstream) are even more complicated. The law has a zero-tolerance approach to illegal substances, with low limits designed to rule out accidental exposure (such as passive smoking) but there are allowable limits for prescription medication as long as they are not affecting the user’s ability to drive.
The limits are as follows:
- clonazepam 50µg/L
- diazepam 550µg/L
- flunitrazepam 300µg/L
- lorazepam 100µg/L
- methadone 500µg/L
- morphine 80µg/L
- oxazepam 300µg/L
- temazepam 1,000µg/L
- amphetamine 250μg/L
Much like alcohol limits, a driver’s physical characteristics and even their recent meals can influence the amount of these drugs found in their bloodstream, which means it’s almost impossible to calculate accurately.
Northern Ireland does not use the same limits, but the police can arrest drivers who are unfit to be behind the wheel.
How can fleets develop a policy ensuring employees are fit to drive?
The first step is to agree limits you will accept as a company. As you might expect, these can’t exceed the legal limits, but many companies choose zero tolerance as the safest option.
For prescription drugs, it’s important to have policies in place ensuring drivers notify their line manager if they begin a course of medication. Doctors and pharmacists can advise whether specific drugs and dosages could impair their ability to drive
Then, you need a testing process that covers all employees. This should always check drivers after collisions, complaints about driving quality or concerns that drivers smell of alcohol or are acting strangely. We would also suggest it’s worth having random checks that test a percentage of your drivers every month.
Once you’ve put this policy in place, you need to make sure you follow it and document everything you do. While there may be some exceptions, a positive test for drugs or alcohol should normally be taken as gross misconduct.
Finally, you need to address medical conditions which could affect driving, as there are over 180 that are notifiable to the DVLA. Most of these will not result in a driver losing their licence, but failure to report them will incur a fine and up to six penalty points. If you suspect a driver has not informed the DVLA, you should report it online so it can be investigated.
The value of wellbeing training
Drivers are often lone workers, and it can be difficult to spot changes in their health or mood. Providing them with wellbeing training can highlight some of the symptoms associated with certain conditions, give them the confidence to speak up about their concerns and steer them to consulting their GP, if necessary. It will also provide lifestyle tips and explain how various conditions, such as dehydration and sleep apnoea, will affect their driving. You can find out more about wellbeing at thecalmzone.net
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