Trip to court?

The government has just opened a two-month consultation on its plans to crack down on drug driving, which it believes may contribute to hundreds of road deaths and injuries every year.

Although it is, of course, already an offence to drive while impaired through drink or drugs, a further new offence has been created: driving with a controlled drug in the body above the specified limit. (Section 5A Road Traffic Act 1988)
However, new legislation - The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations - will define which drugs are to be covered by the offence and at what legal limits, making it easier for police to secure a conviction simply through proving presence of a drug in the driver's body, above the permitted level.

The penalty will be a maximum fine of £5000 fine and/or six months in prison with a minimum mandatory 12-month driving disqualification - the same penalty as for drink driving. It is the government's plan to divide 17 named drugs into two main groups:

- those where there will be a zero tolerance approach to the limits. This is proposed for eight drugs most associated with illegal use: cannabis, cocaine, benzoylecgonine, LSD, ecstasy, ketamine, methamphetamine and heroin/diamorphine (6-MAM).
- those where there will be a road safety risk approach. This is proposed for eight controlled drugs which have medical uses. An offence will take place where there are levels above normal therapeutic levels. Examples of these drugs are morphine, temazepam, oxazepam, methadone, diazepam.

For a further controlled drug, amphetamine, a limit is not proposed in the consultation and the government is seeking views on what a suitable limit might be, as the drug is used both illegally and legally through medical use. While many hauliers already have internal drink and drugs policies to try to police substance abuse in their businesses, the introduction of this offence will undoubtedly reel in those drivers who do drive with drugs present in their bodies and who may well have gone undetected up until now.

The consultation ends on 17 September. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/drug-driving-proposed-regulations.

For further details, read the article by Tim Ridyard in the 1 August issue of Commercial Motor.

Disgraceful dereliction of duty shown by haulage firm

A judge has dismissed an appeal by Boyes Transport, saying the firm had demonstrated a disgraceful dereliction of duty that exposed its drivers to significant risk.

In a written decision, upper tribunal judge Mark Hinchliffe upheld the December 2012 decision of Western traffic commissioner (TC) Sarah Bell (pictured) to revoke the firm’s O-licence for 14 vehicles and 14 trailers.

She also disqualified director and transport manager Sarah Boyes from holding an O-licence for two years.

Vosa began an investigation into the firm following a variation application. A traffic examiner and vehicle examiner:

- submitted a maintenance investigation marked unsatisfactory;
- raised issues over whether Sarah Boyes’ husband Stephen Boyes, who had previously had an O-licence revoked, played a significant part in the operation;
- alleged Sarah Boyes might be operating vehicles specified on the licence of her brother-in-law Mark Boyes;
- found infringements in relation to driver’s hours and tachographs;
- discovered vehicles being driven without driver cards or tachograph records;
- looked at evidence of failure to use the nominated operating centre over a sustained period;
- found many preventive maintenance inspection sheets did not have signed certificates of roadworthiness and none indicated that any form of brake testing had been being carried out.

A total of 13 drivers were investigated; 12 had offences on their charts, and 172 infringements were detected from 496 records. On appeal, Sarah Boyes alleged:

- the TC had incorrectly linked her case with that of her brother-in-law;
- the TC had been agitated when she first started the public inquiry and was disagreeable and annoyed throughout;
- she and her solicitor were unable to give evidence that needed to be heard;
- the procedure was excessively long;
- the TC did not examine records properly;
- Vosa submitted “false information, blatant errors and unjustified allegations” accepted by the TC without question;
- the TC’s findings of fact were wrong.

Hinchliffe said the tribunal could find no reason to criticise the approach, or conclusions, of the TC. “The overall picture is of a disgraceful dereliction of duty by the operator and its transport manager, which exposed drivers, other road users and the public to significant risk. In many ways, we think that she [the TC] has been merciful.” The judge agreed there had been clear evidence of a woeful lack of control and monitoring at Boyes Transport.