Drug driving – a new offence

The offence

The new offence of driving under the influence of drugs came into force on the 2 March 2015.

The offence states that it is illegal to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle whilst under the influence of specific controlled drugs (including illegal, prescription and non-prescription) above a specified limit. The limits have been set down after consultation with medical professionals and, for illegal drugs, are so low that a small amount could trigger a positive test. The limits for prescription and non-prescription drugs are based on normal therapeutic doses.

Generally the drugs in question fall into the below categories, but employees should always check if their specific drug is included.

  • morphine
  • opiate/opioid-based medication
  • diazepam
  • clonazepam
  • flunitrazepam
  • lorazepam
  • oxazepam
  • temazepam, used to treat anxiety or inability to sleep
  • methadone, used to treat drug addiction

Amphetamines used to treat ADHD and Parkinson’s disease are also shortly due to be added to this list.

As nearly 50% of adults are reported to be regularly taking prescription drugs, this offence could open a large portion of the public to prosecution. However, a defence does exist that provides a potential reprieve for those charged with the offence. A person will not be guilty if the drug, in the concentration found in their system, was being used as prescribed by a medical or dental professional and does not contradict any additional instructions that may have been provided by the drug’s manufacturer.

If convicted, the offence carries severe penalties including a mandatory 12-month minimum driving disqualification, a possible £5,000 fine and up to 6 months in prison. Police forces nationwide have begun implementing random roadside drug tests in order to catch potential offenders.

How could this affect you and your employees?

This will obviously have a major impact on employers whose workforce uses vehicles, or who require employees to drive, but it will also have potential effects on all employers.

As the offence is now in force, employers should review their substance misuse and disciplinary policies urgently to ensure that they cover the new offence and contact their insurers to clarify their position regarding offenders. Admiral Insurance has already confirmed it will not insure drivers with a drug driving conviction.

It would also be advisable to ensure employees are made aware of the potential ramifications a conviction may have on their employment, so as to prevent possible future claims for unfair dismissal following a conviction. In the same way that not every conviction with drink driving permits an employer to dismiss, the same will apply to a drug driving conviction.

Employers should also be mindful of employees with disabilities and whether reasonable adjustments may be required to avoid exposing those staff to a risk of a conviction for drug driving.

As an on-going measure, employers might consider implementing policies such as drug tests for their employees, with possible disciplinary consequences for failure or refusal.

If you have any concerns about this blog or the issues raised in it, please do not hesitate to contact Hempsons Employment Team for further advice.