Monday, May 19, 2014

Road Haulage Firms Should Lead the Fight Against Drunk Driving

Why Do We Still Wait for Alcolock Legislation which Could Save Thousands of Lives?
Shipping News Feature

UK – US – Road safety charity Brake is urging employers to implement zero-tolerance policies on at-work drink- and drug-driving as a Brake and Licence Bureau survey finds fewer than half (44%) would dismiss an employee for driving over the legal alcohol limit. Meanwhile over in the US, an alliance of trucking associations are asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to close a loophole in the proposed drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule requiring employers to report all instances of misuse to the clearinghouse. With the increased dangers to innocents from the larger vehicles employed by road haulage firms, the industry should lead the drive to stamp out the practice.

First to the UK, where Brake has published a report which reveals that more than half of the employers questioned have never tested employees for alcohol (55%) or drugs (57%), and that fewer than half (47%) educate drivers on the risks of drug-driving, and only slightly more (50%) educate drivers on the risks of drink-driving. When it comes to taking action, the report found that 44% would dismiss an employee found driving over the legal limit for alcohol, whilst 62% take disciplinary action against employees found to have any amount of alcohol or illegal drugs in their system at work, but only 30% would dismiss employees for this.

Brake is urging all employers with staff who drive for work – whether they have a fleet of commercial vehicles, company cars, or staff driving their own vehicles on company time – to implement policies and procedures to ensure their drivers are sober, alert, not stressed or tired, and have good eyesight, with the survey finding that many employers don't have crucial practices in place to manage other fitness drive issues, like tiredness, stress and poor eyesight, which can lead to devastating and costly crashes. Laura Woods, Research and Information Officer at Brake, said:

"It is desperately worrying that so many employers are lacking the tough approach needed to tackle drink and drug driving at work. This is highly dangerous, selfish risk-taking that should be treated as gross misconduct. People who drive for work should be clear that there is no safe amount to drink before driving – not a drop. We're appealing to all employers with staff who drive for work to ensure their drivers know the risks, know the rules, and know that breaking the rules will not be tolerated. Employers can use Brake's Fleet Safety Forum guidance to review their driving policies and practices, and ensure their drivers are always fit to drive."

As a result of the survey, Brake are trying to steer companies into implementing a zero-tolerance policy and a comprehensive alcohol and drugs education, as well as ensuring that drivers are well rested, alert and stress-free. Les Owen from Licence Bureau says:

"Too many companies bury their head in the sand about road risk management, but this is not helping their business nor making our roads safer. This report identifies the state of companies' management of fitness to drive issues. Companies have a responsibility to manage the at-work safety of staff who drive just as much as staff performing construction, electrical, engineering or other duties. If all employers acted positively, one step at a time, to implement the recommendations in this report it would make a big difference to road safety, result in fewer collisions, and benefit many businesses' bottom line. All companies can make a huge difference to safety by following these recommendations, whether they already engage with Brake or not."

Over in the US, and the American Bus Association, the American Trucking Associations, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the National Private Truck Council, the National Tank Truck Carriers, the Truckload Carriers Association, and the United Motorcoach Association are proposing that all employers must report any and all instances of actual knowledge of alcohol and substance misuse, including direct observations or acknowledgments of misuse, to the proposed clearinghouse. In a letter to the FMCSA, the alliance says:

“There is a longstanding loophole in the current regulations which allows drivers who violate the regulations to escape the consequences of their actions by applying for employment elsewhere and withholding the accurate identities and contact information of previous employers. This loophole has existed since the current drug and alcohol testing regulations were first promulgated in 1995.

“[We] have long supported and advocated for the creation of such a clearinghouse and support FMCSA’s proposal to do so. However, we are concerned that the agency does not propose to require reporting of all drug and alcohol violations to the clearinghouse, including all instances of employer ‘actual knowledge’ of misuse as defined in Section 382.107. Specifically, employers would not be called upon to report their direct observations of drug or alcohol misuse or employee admissions of misuse.

“Failing to capture these two types of violations undermines the purpose of the clearinghouse, to prevent drivers who violate the drug and alcohol prohibitions in Part 382, Subpart B, from escaping the consequences of their actions. Under FMCSA’s current proposal, a driver could be observed engaging in misconduct, or could actually admit to misconduct, and successfully seek employment elsewhere. The subsequent employer would only learn of the disqualifying violation if all three of the following conditions existed: 1) the driver provided an honest and complete employment history to the subsequent employer; and 2) the past employer was still in business; and 3) the past employer dutifully furnished details of the driver’s violation to the subsequent employer. In other words, under the conditions proposed by FMCSA in the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking], the current loophole will remain open.”

Like so many countries both the UK and the US seem to be ignoring an obvious solution, at least to the problem of drivers suffering from a surfeit of alcohol. Despite mandatory regulations for the fitting of ‘alcolocks’ in regions of Scandinavia others have been lamentably slow out of the blocks. In the US from 2012, all 50 states have laws permitting the imposition of ignition-interlock devices, but only as sentencing alternatives for convicted drunken drivers, and this post offence culture seems to be seen as sufficient, as it also is in New Zealand and some Canadian provinces. The compulsory addition of alcolocks, or breath alcohol ignition interlock devices, as they are more properly known, to all new vehicles would seem to alleviate the problem at a stroke.

Vehicles equipped with the technology will not operate if a driver has unacceptable traces of booze on his or her breath and the devices regularly check the driver whilst en route, therefore eliminating the potential for cheating, and have proved positive for companies in Europe in the past, a point we have been making for the past five years or so.

The fact that the numbers of alcohol related driving deaths in the UK, which currently stands at around 300 with a horrifying figure of 10,300 in the US (around 31% of all traffic deaths in the country) could potentially be drastically slashed by the introduction of breath testing locks, should surely rate high on any politician’s agenda.

One way to increase the popularity of the technology without the need to wait for legislation might be to allow lower insurance costs on vehicles suitably equipped. Simon Lole, boss of specialist transport insurance group Peter Lole and Company thinks there are other advantages to alcolocks, saying:

“Companies prepared to go the extra mile and equip new commercial vehicles with this type of technology may see various benefits. Breath checking equipment fits nicely with schemes such as Transport for London’s Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), which requires road haulage outfits to ensure their drivers are alcohol free, not always an easy thing to do with a busy fleet. Additionally it puts such firms in a position where they might argue for reduced premiums on vehicles suitably equipped.”