Driving under the influence of drugs is not only about illegal substances
In March 2015 a new offence of driving under the influence of drugs “in concentrations above a specified limit” was added to the Road Traffic Act 1988.
The new offence includes not only illegal substances but also some legal medicinal drugs, including morphine-based pain killers, methadone and diazepam., but the concentration levels for these were set at a level high enough that in theory at least only drivers who had been prescribed high dosages were likely to be caught in tests.
For those whose work requires them to drive, either because they are out on the road visiting clients, or as sales reps, or because they are employed as drivers, this advice is particularly important.
Firstly, they should check with their GPs about the side effects if any of their prescription medicine and ensure that it is safe for them to drive. Even if the GP advises that driving is safe at the prescribed levels drivers should ensure that once they start taking the medication they wait until they know how their body reacts to it before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Secondly, all drivers are advised to carry their prescription and the manufacturer’s documentation with them while driving.
What should employers do?
The law also adds to the employers’ responsibilities as if an employee has been involved in an accident while out driving for work, employers may well be liable to prosecution if someone has been injured or even killed as a result.
Some employers have now moved toward carrying out tests on employees to ensure they are both drug and alcohol free while at work.
This may be particularly Important when an employee returns to work following a holiday, given that the after-effects of both alcohol and drugs can stay in the system for 24 hours or more after they have been taken.
The Health and Safety Executive publishes guidance for employers on the whole issue.
The guidance includes advice on how to spot the signs of someone who is misusing drugs and suggests that employers set up a formal drug policy, to which employees sign up.
However, it says: “Securing the agreement of the workforce to the principle of screening is essential (except in cases of pre-employment testing), partly because of the practical and legal issues involved.”