Graham Robinson, Business Development Lead at occupational health company, Black and Banton, has experience as a coach driver in the north east. During his time in the industry, he saw numerous examples of drink and drug driving. Here he shares his experiences.
Explaining his time in the industry, Graham said: “Having taken early retirement from a professional position, I had a bucket list to tick off which included gaining my PCV licence. Having been successful with that I worked within the bus and coach industry over a number of years, working for several operators and driving throughout the UK and Europe, which makes me well qualified to comment on the issue of drugs and alcohol. Although the operators I have worked for are north east based, I have been amazed at the high levels of alcohol consumption of drivers whilst on tours and having had a ‘heavy session’ the night before. The lack of drugs and alcohol testing within the industry as a whole is also a shocking revelation, more so when the MDs and managers turn a blind eye because Tommy No Name is a good lad.
“That said, and with all credit to them, the main service bus operators, including National Express operators, do carry out both pre-employment and random alcohol tests and some may also do drug tests too. In fact, it is a contractual requirement for National Express operators to have an alcohol test system fitted to all vehicles in use on this contract. So why don’t all coach operators do the same? Just think about it, would you be happy sending your child on the school bus or a school trip with a driver who may be over the drink-drive limit? After all, it is mandatory to do first use checks on the vehicle but no one does the same with the driver.
“Essentially the operators are spending hundreds of pounds making sure their vehicles are fit for the road but happily send it out with a driver who hasn’t had any checks at all. Around a million adults in this country have some form of alcohol dependence. Overall, alcohol harm costs society £21bn a year, with the costs to the National Health Service (NHS) estimated at £3.5bn.”
“Few do drug tests”
Operators are taking this issue into account, with alcohol testers becoming more prevalent in the industry. Graham said: “It is becoming more and more common for haulage companies to install alcohol testing equipment such as the Dräger Interlock system in the cab of their trucks, which prevent the vehicle from starting if there is a breath test above the pre-set alcohol limit (levels differ in Scotland).” The Dräger Interlock 7000 is the latest technology and is Home Office Approved, which means is use will stand up in a court of law, should this be required. Additionally this kit only requires to be calibrated one every 12 months, saving you expense and downtime.
However, what do service bus operators do? “In the main, the bus operators use hand held alcohol test systems for both pre-employment and random testing, however very few if any do drug tests. It is my opinion that coach operators won’t install this equipment because of the cost implications. Is this cost versus life or serious injury? What about all the minor incidents and all the near misses?
“My research has highlighted that coach insurance companies apparently won’t offer discounts to operators who install driver safety equipment such as the Dräger Interlock 7000. Why? Their response: why should we? There are only four big insurers for the coach industry in the UK so why should they offer any discounts, you can’t exactly shop around for a policy that does allow a discount for preventative measures.
“I was informed that if as a result of an accident and the driver tested positive for drugs or alcohol then the insurance company will only pay out to the third party. Not only that, they will then make efforts to reclaim that cost from the coach operator and/or the driver. This means inevitably no loss of finance to them but do the coach operators realise this or are they happy to be taken to task for the total costs of the drunken driver’s actions and suffer a massive financial claim, or worse still, lose their business. Personally, I think that this is irresponsible of the insurance companies and does little to prevent accidents and discourage drivers and operators from breaking the law. I wonder how many coach operators realise that they could be prosecuted for Corporate Manslaughter if one of their drivers is proven to have drugs or alcohol in their system after an accident?
“I know from personal experience that coach operators will turn a blind eye, even those who do random testing with the little sticks you can buy at a service station or on eBay. These testing systems are not accurate or acceptable in a court of law, by the way. Drivers use energy drinks when they are on a long journey, particularly through the night. I also know that some use drugs, which they feel may keep them alert. That’s not good in itself, but then they happily hit the bar with colleagues once they have reached their destination and in some cases knowing that they have to drive the following day. To demonstrate the level of alcohol issues, statistics show that there were 339,000 estimated hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption in 2015/16. This is 3% higher than 2014/15 and 22% higher than 2005/06.”
Have a look as these coach statistics from the DfT. Are your drivers included in these?
Period Drivers involved in accident Drivers tested Tested as a percentage Percentage that failed test*
2012 6,318 2,275 36% 6%
2013 5,896 2,118 36% 8%
2014 6,103 2,085 34% 8%
2015 5,381 1,897 35% 6%
2016 4,998 1,638 33% 8%
*Failed the test or refused to supply a breath specimen
In order to prevent drink driving, Graham suggests all coach operators should be fitting Dräger 7000 interlock systems into their vehicles. The unit is specifically designed for vehicle use and Graham claims it can save thousands of pounds and small bumps and scrapes right up to potential Corporate Manslaughter cases. It gives a short test to ascertain that the driver is not under the influence of alcohol and therefore “safe to drive your vehicle”.
It involves the driver providing a short breath test into the unit, which analyses it and produces a result within seconds. If it is a positive sample, the vehicle will not start. Graham said: “OK, it gives you a problem getting the coach out but that is better than sending it our as a dangerous weapon and effectively uninsured.”
If the vehicle the Dräger 7000 is fitted to is idle for more than a specified period of time, test will have to be performed again. The idea being to prevent the consumption of alcohol whilst on a break. Anything over 30 minutes will require another test before the coach or bus can be started. The system also provides an image of the person taking the test and also provides a GPS location of the vehicle when the check was made. Graham said: “Just think, you can advertise the fact that your coaches are safer than your competitors as a result of having this well recognised branded equipment fitted to your vehicles.”
The rise of drugs
Illegal drug use is becoming more common, according to Graham, who said about a third of the population admit to taking drugs at some stage in their lives. “In 2015/16, drug use among adults (England and Wales), was around one in 12 (8.4%) aged 16 to 59 had taken an illicit drug in the last year. This equates to around 2.7m people. This level of drug use was similar to the 2014/15 survey (8.6%). We can help you with other systems for drug testing. Just to demonstrate, there were 15,074 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs. This is 6% more than 2014/15 and 51% more than 2005/06.”
Black and Banton also specialises in drug and alcohol testing, providing this service to clients throughout the UK. Random testing can be done, as can cause examinations (post-incident). The company can also supply training and equipment to provide in-house testing. Its equipment is supplied by its partners, Dräger, which is Home Office approved and therefore results are permissible in a Court of Law. It has laboratory access for test confirmations. Its legal partners, Muckles Solicitors, can assist with policies and procedures in respect of intoxicants.
For more information on any aspect of the above, get in touch with Black and Benton at
firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0191 487 1040.
Quotes from Graham
“I have been amazed at the high levels of alcohol consumption of drivers whilst on tours” – Graham Robinson, Project Co-ordinator at Black and Banton
“Just think about it, would you be happy sending your child on the school bus or a school trip with a driver who may be over the drink-drive limit?” – Graham Robinson
“I’m amazed at the amount of drinking that goes on among drivers on tour”
“Around one in 12 (8.4%) aged 16 to 59 had taken an illicit drug in the last year”