Convictions for drug-driving have risen from four drivers a day in 2015 – when new legislation and roadside tests were introduced – to 27 a day, last year.
The close to seven-fold increase, according to a new report from the Department for Transport (DfT), equated to almost 10,000 convictions last year. Some 1,442 motorists were convicted for offences including being in charge of, attempting to drive, or causing death after exceeding the legal drug limit, the previous year, when the rules changed.
The new law made it illegal to drive with certain drugs in the body above specified limits – eight illegal drugs and nine prescription drugs. If caught, drivers face losing their licence for at least a year, being fined up to £5,000 or a spell in prison.
Police forces now also have access to improved screening equipment to test suspected drug drivers for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside.
Furthermore, they are able to test for other drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at a police station with a blood test, even if a driver passes the roadside check.
National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for roads policing, chief constable Anthony Bangham, said: “This change in the law has enabled us to prosecute thousands more dangerous drivers who may have previously escaped detection yet still presented a very serious threat to other road users.”
In its evaluation of the new legislation, the DfT report shows that of the drivers who underwent a preliminary drug screening, approximately 94% were male and 64% were aged between 16 and 29 years.
Fewer women than men report having driven while under the influence of illegal drugs. In 2015/16, 6.3% of men (11.5% in 2014/15) and 2.7% of women (4.2% in 2014/15) who had taken illegal drugs in the past 12 months reported that they had driven while under the influence of illegal drugs.
For 2015/16, as a percentage of all drivers, 1% of men and 0.2% of women reported they had driven while under the influence of illegal drugs in the previous year.
Suzannah Robin, a drug and alcohol safety expert at AlcoDigital, believes drug-driving poses a real threat to fleets.
Almost a third of employees admitted using drugs at work, with a significant number of them claiming to be ‘under the influence’ every working day, in a 2015 survey by protecting.co.uk.
Robin said: “Although there is still no legal requirement for an employer to adopt a drug or alcohol testing policy, they do have an obligation to maintain a safe working environment as part of the Health and Safety at Work Act – and, as these statistics prove, drugs could certainly be an issue in any workplace if practices for detecting misuse aren’t implemented.”
For the past 14 years she has helped numerous businesses implement alcohol and drug testing policies for their staff through certified training programmes.
“One of the things that concerns companies from the outset is how their employees are going to react to a new testing policy being introduced,” she said.
Employers should always communicate clearly with employees before introducing new policies, encouraging staff to declare any medical or dependency issues that could potentially affect a drug test.
She concluded: “Ensuring your workforce fully understand the rationale behind the decision, and what the potential consequences of a positive test result will be are pivotal to operating a best practice policy.”
For more on understanding your obligations as an employer, click here.