Most employers know the law on drinking and driving but with additional complexities, the position on employees who take drugs and then get behind the wheel is less clear cut. The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014 (as amended) make offences of driving, attempting to drive or, being in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place if the driver has certain amounts of 17 controlled drugs in their blood. The Regulations apply to all individuals in England and Wales, including individuals who drive during the course of their employment.
The Regulations clarify the law on drugs and driving and to make it easier for individuals who drive under the influence of drugs to be prosecuted. Previously, it was an offence for a person to drive or attempt to drive a vehicle if they were unfit to drive through drugs but a successful prosecution relied upon it being proven that the driver’s impairment was caused by the drugs in their system. There were no objective standards by which to determine this which made the act of prosecution difficult. Although this law is still in force the Regulations offer clarity to such and make it easier to prosecute for the offence of drug driving. Crucially, the Regulations state that if a driver is found to have amounts of one of the specific drugs above the prescribed limits, they can be convicted on that basis alone without there being any evidence of impairment or a link between the impairment and drug use.
The list of relevant controlled drugs contains a mixture of legal and illegal substances, namely:
-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
It has previously been estimated by the Department of Transport that over 18 million prescriptions are issued annually for drugs which are included within this list. It is highly likely therefore that drivers may inadvertently break the new law when taking commonly prescribed medication. The Department for Transport has reassured drivers that individuals who used drugs legitimately and in accordance with their prescription and GP advice will be able to drive without fear of prosecution. There will be a defence for drivers who were prescribed a drug for a specific purpose and took it in accordance with medical advice. This defence will not however apply if the driver ignored any medical advice given or, disregarded instructions about the amount of time which should lapse between taking the drug and driving. The consequences of any prosecution include up to 6 months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 and a minimum of 12 months’ disqualification.
The Regulations impact upon employers who employ drivers as they will need to ensure that they have communicated, sufficiently, to their employees their expectations regarding drugs and driving. Employers should ensure that their drug and alcohol policies are up to date and that they have complementary health and safety procedures in place. Employers should advise their employees that they will be expected to make clear any medication which they are taking which may impact upon their ability to drive and to refrain from any driving activity during the course of their medication. Most disciplinary policies will include a reference to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol but a further revision or update to this section of the policy to take into account the provisions of the Regulations may also be required.
By Charlotte Geesin, Employment Law Advisor