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Drug-driving becoming more prevalent than drink-driving

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Fleets are being urged to consider drug testing their drivers, as some police forces report arrests for drug-driving have surpassed drink-driving for the first time.

Nationally, the number of drug-driving prosecutions almost doubled last year, with a record 10,215 cases in England and Wales, compared with 5,368 in 2017. Some 60,000 drivers failed roadside breath tests in 2016, according to the most recent Ministry of Justice data available.

However, more recent statistics released by some individual forces show a worrying trend, with cannabis and cocaine now more prevalent than alcohol in roadside tests.

The latest data released by Suffolk Police, for example, shows that the number of arrests for drug-driving surpassed the number of drink-drive arrests for the first time in the county.

The 672 drug-driving arrests in 2018/19 represented a 20% increase on the previous 12 months, while drink-driving increased by 11.3% to 652 arrests.

Assistant chief constable Simon Megicks said: “This year is the first time our drug-drive numbers are in excess of drink-drive ones.”

It was a similar story in Norfolk, where more drug-drivers were caught during its Christmas drink-drive campaign for the first time.

More than 600 people were arrested after failing a roadside drug test in the county last year, just four years earlier 37 were arrested on suspicion of drug-driving.

Meanwhile, early results from the annual drink- and drug-driving summer campaigns also show that, when used, roadside drug tests have a higher hit rate than breath tests for alcohol.

During Greater Manchester Police’s 14-day summer drink and drug campaign, it carried out 640 breath tests, with some 90 proving positive. That compared with 114 roadside drug tests, with 50 samples returning a positive reading for either cannabis or cocaine.

Figures from Cheshire Police, seen by Fleet News, show a huge increase in the detection of cannabis and cocaine after new legislation was introduced.

In 2014, before officers in Cheshire could perform roadside tests for cannabis or cocaine, there were 70 arrests. Four years later, in 2018, that had risen to 858. 

It says cannabis and cocaine are the most prevalent drugs used by drug-drivers, with almost two-thirds (62%) testing positive for cannabis, 25% for cocaine and 13% testing positive for both substances.

More than half (62%) of positive tests were from drivers aged 30 years and below and an incredible 94% were male, much higher than the 78% for drink-driving.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for roads policing, chief constable Anthony Bangham, said he was “concerned” to see the increase in the number of motorists testing positive for drugs.

He told Fleet News public perception of the issue needs to change.

“Drink-driving is considered socially unacceptable by the vast majority of the public, yet the emergence of drug-driving is perhaps not yet seen in the same way,” he said.

“Anyone driving under the influence of drink or drugs is a real danger to themselves and other road users.”

Four out of five respondents to a Fleet News poll appear to agree, believing drug-driving has become such a safety issue for fleets that they think employers should be routinely testing company car and van drivers.

The insurance industry is also taking note and urging fleets to ensure they have robust polices in place.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) told Fleet News that, with the right information and the right policies, “fleet managers can help protect their drivers, other road users and their businesses”.

Laurenz Gerger, motor policy adviser at the ABI, explained: “All organisations can benefit from having formal drug and alcohol policies which clearly outline the consequences of alcohol or drug misuse at the workplace. Such a policy may include screening and testing.

“Commercial fleet insurers will work with their customers to develop solutions to reduce vulnerability and manage their road risk.”

Roadside drug testing

Higher detection rates have been attributed to the introduction of roadside drug testing and an overhaul of drug-driving laws.

Changes to the offence of drug-driving came into force in England and Wales from March 2015. New legislation made it illegal to drive with specified levels of certain drugs, including legal medication, in your system.

It had been a criminal offence, under section 4 Road Traffic Act 1988, to drive a motor vehicle while being unfit to do so as a result of drug consumption. However, the new rules meant a driver could be guilty of an offence of drug-driving even if their ability to drive is not impaired as a result of drug use.

Section 5A contained the new offence of driving with a concentration of a specified controlled drug above a specified limit, with Government taking a zero-tolerance approach to cannabis, for example.

The drugs specified in the regulations consisted of eight legal medications, including diazepam and morphine, and eight illegal drugs such as cannabis and cocaine.

Drivers convicted of an offence of drug-driving are automatically banned from driving for at least one year, and can face a fine of up to £5,000, up to six months in prison, or both.

Police forces have also had access to new drug-testing kits for use during roadside checks of suspected drivers.

D.Tec International provides police forces in England and Wales with its Drugwipe device, which uses saliva to test for cocaine and cannabis at the roadside.

The company also offers advice on corporate drug and alcohol policies and workplace testing on a range of drugs to mitigate a fleet’s exposure to risk.

Ean Lewin, managing director of D.Tec International, says drug-driving poses a “very significant” risk to fleet managers.

A recent sweep at a construction company returned a positive test for drugs for more than one-in-three drivers (38%) against an industry average of 15% and an average of 6% across all industries.

“It was a shocking result, but we’re catching drug-drivers on a daily basis,” said Lewin. “One of the forces told me that 50% of their drug-driving arrests were at-work drivers.”

Risk Management

There is no legal obligation for the fleet industry to adopt specific testing policies in the workplace, but companies do have a duty of care to maintain a safe working environment under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Lewin advocates screening as part of the recruitment process, making an initial test part of a potential driver’s risk assessment and his company has been working with one of the country’s major insurers to help mitigate a fleet’s risk.

D.Tec International is a specialist partner of Aviva Risk Management Solutions (ARMS), with the insurer offering policyholders breathalysers, drug wipes, drug and alcohol awareness courses, as well as policy guidance. 

Gill Milner, technical account manager for motor and liability at Aviva, explained: “These all contribute to creating and maintaining an environment with improved management of this risk.”

Aviva’s liability and motor risk consultants have been trained in drug and alcohol awareness, on how to recognise the general signs of drug use, and the affect that drugs and alcohol have on driving and work performance.

They are also trained in how to use breathalysers and drug wipes. 

Milner said: “Improving the knowledge of our risk consultants and providing them with breathalysers and drug wipes enables a far more proactive discussion with customers, where we can illustrate the subject and share our knowledge with greater confidence.”

Introducing effective management of a robust drug and alcohol policy and screening, according to Milner, allows employers to “non-intrusively” check their safety-critical employees in a culture of openness and trust. This reduces the risk of any incident that may affect not only the organisation, but other employees, customers, suppliers and the wider public.

“By not addressing drug driving, there is a real risk that employers will fail in their legal duty of care for employees and others who may be affected by their activities,” she said.

Another large fleet insurer, Zurich, says impairment through drugs, whether prescribed or illegal, needs to be part of the consideration of the overall work-related road risk strategy.

“The risk needs to be assessed, appropriate interventions should be deployed and a monitor and review process should be introduced,” said Louise Kerrigan, casualty and motor team leader for risk engineering at Zurich.

“We would recommend introducing policies and procedures which include the provision of drug and alcohol testing for pre-employment, random, with cause and/or as a condition for access of employees or contractors to a site.

“Policies and processes should be risk-based and organisations typically find it beneficial to define a ‘safety critical employee’, which would include anyone who drives a vehicle for work.”

'Growing fleet interest'

Milner reports growing interest from its fleet customers and is currently active in sectors including transport and distribution, construction, retail and leisure services.

“Discussing drugs and alcohol in the workplace with policyholders means we can assist in providing advice, listen to their concerns and offer a mix of solutions to tackle any issues they have identified,” she said. 

“A number have already implemented drug and alcohol policies and screening. For some, the drug wipes offering was welcomed, as it is less intrusive than other screening methods and the drug and alcohol awareness training greatly increased their managers’ awareness to positively and proactively manage this subject.”

The road safety charity Brake had long argued for new drug driving laws before they were finally introduced in 2015.

It says organisations should have a comprehensive drug testing and reporting policy in place. This should require them to test all drivers for drugs at the pre-employment stage, at random thereafter, when there is a probable cause, post incident and as a condition for access of employees or contractors to a site.

“We’re appealing to all employers with staff who drive for work to treat this with the seriousness that it deserves and have the necessary driving policies and practices in place to ensure their drivers are always fit to drive,” said a spokesman.

“Employers using vehicles to do their business, no matter the size of their business, or the type of vehicle they use or who owns those vehicles, have a responsibility to manage the associated risks, for any related legal reason but also moral reasons to protect people from death and injury.”

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