It has always been an offence to drive whilst taking drink and drugs that impair driving and this is laid out in Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, however, on 2 March 2015 new laws relating to drug driving come into force. There will be a new offence of driving with certain controlled drugs including some prescription drugs. Drivers will need to make sure they are fit and legal to drive. Employers need to be prepared for the drug driving laws and and implement HR policies and procedures to protect the workforce covering all employees who drive on company business either in company or their own vehicles.
The ability of the police to prosecute for drug driving offences has always been difficult meaning that there have been few prosecutions due to inability to prove impairment.
Drivers who are impaired by drugs can already be arrested. However, being over the limit with prescription drugs will be an offence. Unlike the existing ‘impairment’ offence, the new law provides a medical defence for patients who are taking their medicine in accordance with instructions – either from a healthcare professional or printed in the accompanying leaflet – provided they are not impaired. If they are impaired it will be an offence and prosecution may result. This new offence will be section 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988
The government has produced guidance that advises patients who take legitimately supplied medicines to keep evidence with them in case they are stopped by police; this could include a GP letter or copy of the prescription. This will help speed up any investigation into the medical defence and reduce the inconvenience to the patient.
The new regulations will come in to force at the same time as new equipment to test drivers for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside is expected to become available to the police. If a driver tests positive they will be taken to a police station where a further evidential test will be taken. If this is positive it will allow police to arrest and charge a driver for being over the limit. Detection levels for illegal drugs will be low.
The limits for each of the following drugs were set out by the government in 2014. A medical panel of experts have advised on the most commonly used drugs and levels have been set where a road safety risk arises.
- Cannabis (tetrahydrocannabinol, THC)
Although only a few benzodiazepines and opioids are included in the list above, all benzodiazepines and opioids can impair driving ability. The risk of driving impairment is increased if the medicine is taken with alcohol. Warnings on the risks of driving impairment are already in the patient information leaflet.
Employers need to ensure that there is a robust drugs use policy in the employee handbook that covers issues such as driver safety and link to the disciplinary procedure for any misdemeanours.