By Alisdair Suttie 26 May 2010
Wednesday 26 May 2010: Fleet Voice Column
A new campaign by the Fleet Safety Forum aims to raise awareness and lower tolerance of drink and drug driving among business drivers.
Called ‘Face Facts’, the campaign wants to alert drivers and fleet managers alike of how to identify these problems, but does the campaign go far enough?
The Fleet Safety Forum (FSF) is a division of Brake, the road safety charity, and its campaign says that fleet drivers are twice as likely to get behind the wheel after consuming three or more units of alcohol. It doesn’t say whether this is immediately before driving or the night before.
However, the FSF does point out that a third (33%) of business drivers questioned admitted to driving the next morning after a heavy night’s drinking. This compares to a fifth (21%) of other drivers.
These are frightening statistics and the FSF’s recommendation that fleet managers introduce drink and drug testing prior to letting drivers out on the roads is a commendable one. The problem is, how do you implement this when so many company car drivers leave home and go directly to clients and meetings without going near their office base?
Until now, fleet managers have relied on the good sense of their drivers to take it easy the night before or make sure they are not driving the next day if there’s a big night out planned. Sensible company policy also makes it clear that such common sense behaviour is expected.
There are products for self-testing for alcohol levels, but many of these have proved to be too vague to be trusted at best and downright unreliable at worst. Volvo has developed the AlcoGuard, which requires the driver to give a breath sample before setting off – fail to pass the breath test and the car just won’t start. There are also systems such as the AlcoLock that are linked to the vehicle’s immobiliser and won’t allow the car to be driven if a positive breath test is given.
All of these systems are worth having as a safeguard, but surely the way to deal with this potentially fatal problem is to change attitudes towards drinking in the first place. This is where the FSF’s Face Fact’s campaign has not gone far enough.
Until the drink-drive limit in the UK is brought into line with the majority of the European Union and dropped significantly, this problem will persist, even among drivers who regard themselves as sensible and safe.
It is very easy to be unwittingly over the UK’s drink-drive limit as most drivers think two pints of beer or a couple of glasses of wine take them up to, but not over, the limit.
Research by the police shows that the increased strength of alcohol and larger measures sold in pubs now means many drivers could be noticeably over the limit yet believe they are driving safely.
Lower the limit in line with the rest of Europe and the barrier is a single pint or glass of wine, but with a small buffer margin for safety.
Of course, the only truly safe limit is no drink whatsoever before driving. It takes around one hour for the human body to process and rid itself of one unit of alcohol, though this depends very much on the individual.
If you have a night in the pub watching the World Cup and then have to be up at 7am to get to an appointment, how sober are you? That is a truly sobering thought as being stopped, breathalysed and found to be over the limit will mean a guaranteed minimum 12-month driving ban and all the repercussions that arise from being guilty of drink-driving.
The same applies to drug-driving, which is a factor cited in 6% of all fatal crashes in the UK in 2008. There is no safe limit for drug-driving, yet the police have a limited ability to check for this at the roadside.
For this reason, many drivers consider it safer and easier to get away with drug-driving. In Europe, many police forces have roadside drug testing kits and studies show they enjoy a 10-fold greater success rate at catching and prosecuting drivers with drugs in their systems.
A far greater chance of being caught for drink or drug driving will act as a serious deterrent to all drivers, not just business users, and make the UK’s roads safer for everyone.
By all means make fleet managers and company drivers more aware of the dangers and signs to watch for, but there will always be the persistent few who don’t get the message.
These drivers are the ones that lower drink-driving limited and simple roadside drug tests will target, not the responsible majority.
While we applaud the Fleet Safety Forum for trying to highlight a problem and raise awareness among fleet drivers, its Face Facts campaign is ultimately treating a symptom and not the cause of the problem.
The reasons some drivers consider it acceptable to drink or take drugs and then get behind the wheel are as baffling as they are numerous. For this reason, and because many company drivers do not work out of an office base, it’s all but impossible for fleet managers to monitor every driver on their books.
Tough, strict drink limits and easier roadside testing for drugs by the police are what we need, along with steeper penalties for those who are caught offending. Rehabilitation also needs to be part of the solution for those caught so they understand why they’re being punished. Only then will we have tackled the root cause and seriously diminish this killer problem.
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