Drug Driving and the Threat to your Business

Drug driving has now surpassed drink driving for the first time ever with cannabis and cocaine more prevalent in roadside tests than alcohol. In one year alone, drugs-driving prosecutions almost doubled with a record 10,215 cases in 2018 compared to 5,368 in 2017 and the problem is escalating.  94% of those arrested were male and one police force reported that 50% of their drug-driving arrests were at-work drivers.

The HSE estimate that “more than a quarter of all road traffic incidents may involve somebody who is driving as part of their work at the time.” Every year over 200 people die and more than 1,100 are seriously injured in drink drive crashes. Almost 100 people are killed each year in accidents involving drivers who were impaired by illegal drugs or medicines, and over 400 are seriously injured and around 1,100 slightly injured.

In March 2015 the new section 5A offence, “excess drugs” law came into force in England and Wales and made it an offence to drive, attempt to drive, or be in charge of a motor vehicle with certain drugs in the body above a specified limit. Roadside tests are now in place to measure the presence of drugs as well as alcohol in drivers.

But many drivers are often unaware that they are at risk because they do not realise that their prescription medications are included in the list of disallowed drugs or how long certain substances remain in their systems.  The drugs specified in the regulations include eight illegal drugs such as cannabis and cocaine but also legal prescription medication including diazepam and morphine. A driver may feel fine to drive but still fail testing as traces can be found days after usage and don’t leave the system as quickly as alcohol does.

Businesses and fleet operators are being urged to pay attention to their drug and alcohol policies in order to reduce the severe risks to the public, their drivers and their business. Education, workplace policies and procedures are advised and although not yet a legal requirement, are bound to be enforced some time in the near future as the problem escalates.

Drugs and Driving: The Effects

Driving under the influence of drugs can seriously affect your driving and increase the danger of having an accident. The effects of driving under the influence of drugs include:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Impaired co-ordination
  • Blurred vision
  • Over-confidence
  • Loss of concentration
  • Increased risk-taking behaviour
  • Inappropriate driving
  • Not being able to judge distances and speeds properly

Be clear about the Law

It’s illegal to drive if either:

  • You are unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs
  • You have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood (even if they have not affected your driving)

The government is unable to provide any guidance on what amounts of dosage would equate to being over the specified limits. There are too many variables, such as physical characteristics, where each person will metabolise the drug at different rates. Eating or drinking will also have an effect on the blood concentration so always err on the side of caution.

Which drugs and what limits?


‘Illegal’ drugs (‘accidental exposure’ – zero tolerance approach)

Threshold limit in microgrammes per litre of blood (µg/L)





delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis)




lysergic acid diethylamide




Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)


6-monoacetylmorphine (heroin)


‘Medicinal’ drugs (risk based approach)

Threshold limit in blood











morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, for example codeine, tramadol or fentanyl






Separate approach (to balance its risk)

Threshold limit in blood





How will the new laws affect you if you’re taking prescription medicines?

You should continue taking medicines as advised by your doctor or healthcare professional, or according to the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine. Police have the power to test and arrest drivers suspected of driving after taking certain controlled drugs in excess of specified levels. If you’re taking medicine in accordance with instructions from a healthcare professional or an accompanying leaflet, provided you’re not impaired, you can use this in your defence. If you drive and take prescription medicine, it is advised to keep evidence of this with you in case you are stopped by the police.It is your responsibility as a driver to always read the labels of any medication you’re taking and to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether or not your driving will be affected. Never get behind the wheel if the label, or a medical professional, tells you that your concentration, mood, coordination or reactions as a driver could be compromised by a medication. Painkillers, sleeping pills, medications for allergies, some diet pills and some cold and flu medicines can impair your ability to drive

Driver Penalties

If one of your drivers is convicted of drug driving they will get:

  • An automatic driving ban for a minimum of one year
  • A fine up to £5,000
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • A criminal record
  • A conviction record on your licence that lasts 11 years
  • Causing death by dangerous driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs will result in a maximum 14-year jail sentence and a minimum 2-year driving ban.

Be aware of the risks to business

  • Your vehicle fleet insurance costs may increase significantly
  • Your drivers will face penalties that will cease their ability to drive
  • You or your business may be liable for prosecution if you fail in your duty of care

What employers should be doing to minimise the risk

Employees are obviously expected to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do at work.  Whilst there are currently no legal obligations for the fleet industry to adopt specific testing policies n the workplace, employers have a duty under the management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to assess risks to the health and safety of their drivers. If you knowingly allow your employees to continue working under the influence of drug misuse or excess alcohol and his or her behaviour places the employee or others at risk, you could be prosecuted as you fail in your legal duty of care.

Road Safety charity Brake has been lobbying for new drug driving laws for a long time, well before they were finally introduced in 2018.

Brake “We’re appealing to all employers with staff who drive for work to treat this with the seriousness that it deserves and have the necessary driving policies and practices in place to ensure their drivers are always fit for purpose. Employers using vehicles to do their business, no matter what the size of their business or the type of vehicles, have a responsibility to managed the associated risks, not only for moral reasons but also to protect people form injury and death.”

Here are some of the ways in which employers can help mitigate the risks.

  • Develop a workplace drug and alcohol policy
  • Implement drug screening as part of the recruitment process
  • Raise awareness of the risks and facts
  • Lead by example
  • Train your drivers
  • Conduct regular driver licence checks
  • Assess and monitor your drivers
  • Conduct random screening tests
  • Investigate accidents