Fleet operators are being urged to introduce robust drug policies following the experience of one major company, which operates a fleet of more than 5,000 vehicles.
The company, which wishes to remain anonymous, found that 40% of its employees tested after being involved in a crash or who were suspected of being impaired at work, were abusing illegal drugs or alcohol.
Ninety-five per cent of those were abusing illegal drugs.
“Lots of companies have drugs policies in place, but it is testing that makes a difference,” said a company spokesman.
“There was shock when we introduced testing because a lot of people, including managers, did not understand the severity of the drug problem in this country. But there was also relief at branch level from those who were working alongside drug users.”
The company ran a three-month amnesty prior to introducing testing when those with a problem could ask for counselling. Just five employees took up the offer.
Following the amnesty, random testing was introduced as was compulsory testing in cases where there was a suspicion that employees could be abusing drugs – such as after a traffic crash.
Mike Atkins, director of the company’s drug test provider, Grendonstar, explained why companies should introduce testing policies.
“Pre-employment testing prevents the problem coming in,” he said.
“And when current employees know that if they have an accident they will be tested, the vast majority will change their lifestyle.
"We can’t tell people not to use illegal drugs but we can say that they can’t come to work with drugs in their system.”
All of those who tested positive for drugs after the amnesty were disciplined and no longer work for the company.
“If you are caught, you are out,” said the spokesman.
“Testing is a deterrent and it works.”
But Roger Singer, head of drug and alcohol testing provider, Avoidd, said fleet managers should not rush into compulsory testing.
While he agreed that within a decade all companies will drug test their drivers, not all need to now.
“A lot of companies say that what their employees did over the weekend is their business, but they do want to know if they are fit to drive,” he said.
“Therefore we recommend that they first do a field impairment test. If the driver fails that then do an alcohol test and only then do a drug test.”
Avoidd even gives advice on how long drivers should wait if they have used illegal drugs.
For example, an amphetamine user should wait 12 hours before driving, while a cannabis user should wait six hours.
But Mr Singer admits that the problem is getting worse and companies must act to protect themselves and their drivers.
“It is becoming a problem. A driver under 30 is now more likely to be driving on cannabis than alcohol.”
According to Grendonstar, companies must expect at least one person in ten to be on illegal drugs.
“And in some areas the problem is much worse – it is one in five in some areas and in Milton Keynes we found it was one in three, even when they knew they were going to be tested,” said Mr Atkins.
He pointed out that a drug user is 3.6 times more likely to be involved in an accident while at work and that a quarter of all at-work accidents involve someone abusing drugs or alcohol.