• International Workplace
  • 27 February 2015

Employers unaware of new drug driving legislation

On 2 March 2015, new legislation on drug driving will come into force in England and Wales, making it illegal to drive with a specific controlled drug in the body above the accepted limit for that drug.

As with drink driving, these new rules, which set limits for eight illegal and eight prescription drugs, will mean it will be an offence to be over the specified limits for each drug while driving.

The new legislation is aimed at making it easier for the police to deal with drug driving and offenders can face a 12-month driving ban, fine of up to £5,000 and a criminal record.

The eight prescription drugs that are included within the new law are:

  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Oxazepam
  • Temazepam
  • Methadone
  • Morphine

The limits that have been set for these drugs exceed normal prescribed doses, therefore meaning people will still be able to drive after taking these drugs if:

  • They have been prescribed them and advised how to take them by a healthcare professional
  • They aren’t causing people to be unfit to drive

However, the Government suggests that you should talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if you have been prescribed any of these drugs. Road Safety Minister, Robert Goodwill, said:

“We advise anyone who is unsure about the effects of their medication or how the new legislation may affect them, to seek advice of their doctor or pharmacist.”

Drivers who are taking prescribed medication at high doses are also being instructed to carry evidence with them, such as prescription slips, when driving, in order to reduce any potential problems should they be asked to take a test by the police.

Regarding illegal drugs, in a statement, the Department for Transport warned that the limits for these drugs will be extremely low and one smoke of cannabis will put drivers over the limit.

While the penalties for flouting these new laws could be severe, it doesn’t appear that everyone is up to speed. Fleet News revealed that one in four respondents to a recent poll said they are in the dark about the forthcoming drug driving legislation coming into force next week.

Once the legislation is in force, police will be able to take up to three saliva tests at the roadside to identify any drugs used. If any are positive, then the driver would be taken to a police station for a blood test.

Speaking to Fleet News, Dave Nichols, Professional Engagement Officer for road safety charity, Brake, said:

“This much needed progressive move by Government will make it easier for police to catch illegal drug drivers.

“However, it’s worrying that many companies that employ at-work drivers are still unaware of the new legislation and how this could impact their business. Illegal drugs seriously impair your ability to drive safely, making you a huge risk to yourself and others.”

Nichols continued:

“That is why it is important all employers make sure they have the correct policies, training, education and testing in place so drivers fully understand the consequences of drug driving.”

‘Think!’, the Department for Transport’s road safety arm, has been campaigning this month to raise awareness and has vowed to continue to do so as the new law takes effect in March.

We spoke to our Health and Safety Consultant, Kate Gardner, about this highly topical subject:

“Just before Christmas my youngest daughter passed her driving test and joined the 45.5 million people in the UK to hold a driving license. We had the big talk about not drinking and driving, but I can’t say that we have specifically spoken about the issue of drugs and driving. In this instance I am not talking about illegal drugs such as cannabis or cocaine, but the impairing affect that prescription medication may have on your driving.

“As we know, from 2 March 2015, new laws are being introduced to make it easier for the police to catch and convict for driving under the influence of drugs.

“While the existing legislation states that you shouldn’t drive if you are impaired by drugs, the new legislation changes mean that while your driving may not be appear to be impaired, it is an offence to drive with certain levels of these drugs in your system. With the police now able to use a saliva test at the roadside, potentially this means that if you or a member of your staff were involved in a road traffic accident or were observed to be driving in an unsafe manner, the police could routinely use a saliva test that detects one of these drugs and you may find yourself arrested and taken off for a blood test.

“The new law may make it easier for police to catch illegal drug drivers; however, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who take morphine based prescription drugs who could inadvertently find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

“As research suggests, many companies that employ drivers are unaware of this new legislation and may not also truly understand that illegal drugs can seriously impair driving ability, putting both the driver and other road users at risk.

“The Department for Transport has made it very clear in its information packs that have been distributed to the medical profession that prescribers and patients must fully comprehend the impact that listed medicines may have on driving, and if in any doubt, should not drive.”

So where does all of this leave organisations?

Kate states:

“While there is no specific legislation in relation to driving at work, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets the overarching duty to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of all employees at work and to ensure that others are not put at risk by work-related driving activities. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations requires companies to assess the risk to the workforce and to people who may be affected.

“I completely agree with the comments made by Dave Nichols, Professional Engagement Officer for road safety charity, Brake, and reiterate that employers do need to take the time to review their risk assessments to ensure that they have the correct policies, training, education and testing in place so drivers fully understand the consequences of drug driving.”

Kate concluded:

“It is estimated that 19 million prescriptions a year are issued for these listed drugs, and while a medical defence can protect you from prosecution if you are above the limit for a particular drug, it will not prevent prosecution if you are deemed to be driving while impaired by that drug. It is important to note that most people over the limit will be impaired, but may not recognise the effects, especially if they have been using the prescription medication for a significant period of time.”

Why change the law?

While not everyone is happy with the forthcoming changes, driving under the influence of drugs is believed to be on the increase, and a survey conducted in 2014 by Brake and insurance firm, Direct Line, found that the equivalent of one million UK drivers (approximately 3%) admitted driving after taking drugs in the previous 12 months.

Furthermore, the Government states that drug driving is responsible for as many as 200 deaths a year.

What does the HSE suggest?

In the context of drugs and health and safety in the workplace, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that employers should adopt a substance misuse policy, in consultation with their staff.

Whatever your view on the new legislation, it is vital that employers are aware of the changes and then inform all employees of the updates.

If you require any further advice, please feel free to get in touch with us.