Operators warned to rethink drink-driving policies

Operators have always had a duty under O-licensing rules to take reasonable steps to ensure their drivers, not just vehicles, are not breaking the law. But with the UK government planning to crack down on drink and drug driving even harder, this responsibility has never been more pertinent.

Hauliers are urged to be more vigilant when it comes to testing their drivers for drugs and alcohol, despite there being no legal requirement to have an alcohol and drugs testing policy in place.

A law limiting the amount of illegal and prescribed drugs in a driver’s bloodstream came into force for the first time in England and Wales last year, prompting a lawyer to urge hauliers to update their policies on drugs and prescription medicine.

The blood alcohol limit for driving in in England and Wales – 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood - has remained unchanged since 1966, but other provinces have recently tightened up the rules on the amount of alcohol drivers are allowed to consume. The legal limit in Scotland has been 50mg per 100ml of blood for all drivers since December 2014, and Northern Ireland will soon have a 20mg per 100ml blood alcohol limit in place for commercial drivers.

But the limit still remains much higher than for commercial drivers in other industries- train drivers and airline pilots have to adhere to a limit roughly a quarter of the current drink-driving limit in England and Wales. The limit in England and Wales is also much higher than most other EU countries.

So what should operators do to make sure they can cover themselves should a driver be caught breaking drink-driving laws? Even though there are no strict rules surrounding drug and alcohol tests in the workplace, employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health and safety of their employees. The employer would have committed an offence if they have allowed the consumption of alcohol or drugs to put others at risk.

The Transport Law Blog recommends that operators consider various methods of testing their staff, either by random checks or on a routine basis. Agreement from the workforce must be obtained before tests are made, and tests should also include those who operate heavy machinery- not just truck drivers.

No compensation from VW for affected owners in EU

Volkswagen UK MD Paul Willis has confirmed the company does not intend to provide compensation to EU owners whose vehicles have been fitted with a defeat device to lower NOx output during emissions testing procedures.

In a letter to the UK Transport Committee following his appearance before it last October, Willis said that although VW accepted a defeat device had been used in certain models in the US and had offered owners a goodwill gesture worth $1,000 (£700), it did not think it possible to make the same definitive legal determination in relation to software fitted to differently configured vehicles in the UK and EU.

He declined to go into detail, however, citing “the potential for this to be an issue that is examined in litigation, both in the English courts and elsewhere”.

Since the technical fixes the firm plans to apply are not intended to affect performance or fuel consumption and may provide benefits in terms of reduced NOx emissions, VW would prefer to spend its money on maximising uptake of the fixes “rather than offering a separate financial payment as a goodwill gesture at this stage”, he said.

Willis’s letter said: “VW was optimistic, based on the testing, that the performance and fuel economy will not be adversely affected.” But he admitted the firm would be “closely monitoring both metrics when implementation starts to ensure our anticipation matches the eventual results”.

Transport Committee chairman Louise Ellman said the committee had agreed to call Willis before it again to answer further questions on VW’s stance.

A spokeswoman for VW in the UK told Commercialmotor.com that fixes for the NOx issue would begin in March. Customers could choose between bringing their vehicles in to be fixed or having the fixes carried out alongside a routine service visit, she added.