Friday, March 6, 2015

HGV Drivers and Road Haulage Operators Have to Watch for Drug Influenced Driving Even Harder

Penalties Under New Intoxicants Legislation Errs Toward Favouring Prescribed Substances
Shipping News Feature

UK – HGV drivers and road haulage operators should pay special attention to the new drug driving laws which came into force at the beginning of March. We have written before of the perils of driving road freight vehicles on Monday mornings whilst under the influence of alcohol, and the benefit of devices such as Alcolocks in defeating the problem. For most trucking companies however drugs are a more insidious and harder to detect problem, and many of course may actually be prescribed for the driver.

The new regulations cover permissible levels for 16 separate intoxicants, eight legal and eight illegal. Allowable levels however appear to be heavily slanted in favour of the prescription drugs with critics pointing out that the minimal levels of substances such as cocaine, heroin and ketamine permissible would have little or no effect on a driver’s ability, the argument being this is no more than a simple way to arrest illegal drug users, whether or not they are fit to operate a motor vehicle.

Allowable levels for prescribed methadone for example are 100 times greater than for heroin for which it is often a substitute. The police road side test kits are apparently able to only identify the THC of a cannabis user or cocaine, with every other suspected case needing a trip to the cells where a blood test can be given. Those under the influence of regularly supplied prescribed drugs such as Temazepam or Valium (Diazepam), legal limits of 1000 and 550 micrograms per litre of blood respectively, may be in much worse state when just below the limit as opposed to the casual joint smoker who only has a leeway of 2 micrograms per litre of THC and is considered ‘stoned’, even if he or she has no perceptible symptoms.

The changes in the law have come into effect following the June 2010 report by Sir Peter North which concluded that the UK had a ‘significant drug driving problem’. This was followed by the government’s consultation document in July 2013 from which the blueprint of the law was prepared. The full table of drug limits can be seen here together with the governments thinking behind the changes.

Estimates as to the number of deaths caused in whole or in part by illegal drug users, or those who have abused their medication, varies, but most agree a figure of around two hundred is not an unreasonable assumption. Brake, the road safety charity, together with insurers Direct Line, last year held a survey showing the equivalent of one million drivers (3%) admitted to having driven on drugs in the past year.

For those found guilty under the new legislation the penalties will mean a maximum six month jail sentence, £5,000 fine, and automatic 12 month driving ban. And for professional drivers that will also mean the loss of a job that requires ever more training and a professional attitude.