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The advantages of a zero-tolerance alcohol policy

Date: 02 February 2017   |   Author: Debbie Wood

The drink-driving limit in England and Wales has been under debate for a number of years now, with many key industry organisations urging the Government to consider lowering the legal limit to 50mg from 80mg per 100ml of blood to match Scotland and the majority of Europe.

Currently, if drivers are caught over the limit they'll face an automatic 12-month ban, a criminal record, an unlimited fine, and could even go to prison for up to six months. The vehicle forfeiture scheme also means that, in some cases, the car can be seized and crushed.

Key industry bodies are urging fleets to consider a zero tolerance policy on alcohol, but can fleets realistically impose a blanket ban?

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), believes so, and states that the first step for fleets is to have a risk management policy in place that clearly covers the business's stance on drink-driving.

"The days of the worst excesses of the 'liquid lunch' and expense account dining are probably behind us now as firms seek to control costs and corporate liability develops. No high-profile company can afford the social media backlash it would get if it was found to be encouraging drink-driving," Grieg told BusinessCar. "All companies should have a driver risk management policy in place for their own fleet and the grey fleet drivers in their employment."

Drink Drive Pic

According to the Department for Transport's reported road casualties in Great Britain for 2014 and 2015, one in eight road deaths are caused by drink-driving, estimated to be around 240 deaths, with more than 8,000 casualties and at a cost of a reported £800m each year.

Road safety charity Brake states that drivers with 20-50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, so below the current legal limit, are at least three times more likely to die in a crash than those with no alcohol in their system, which is why the organisation believes that zero-tolerance isn't too extreme and shouldn't be too difficult for fleets to introduce and enforce as long as it is effectively communicated.

"Enforcing zero-tolerance policies with the drivers is not problematic. Brake works with many companies of varying sizes who have very successful and well-communicated zero-tolerance policies in place," said Brake's professional engagement manager Ellie Pearson.

Although the Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM) agrees that zero-tolerance is a "much clearer" position for a company to take, there's no legal requirement for it to be introduced and believes it should be down to the individual comany's discretion.

"It is very much up to the business to decide what position they wish to take, but in doing so they must consider how they are going to monitor the impact of their chosen policy," said Peter Eldridge, director at the organisation. "In this respect, mandatory breath tests are one option available, but they should also recognise that the law is quite clear that even if a driver is under the legal limit, he or she could still be prosecuted if the police feel that the consumption of alcohol was a contributory factor to an accident that has occurred."


Enforcing policies like this will prove problematic for some fleets though, and Grieg admits testing employees for alcohol is a delicate situation and the repercussions need to be clearly planned before the policy is introduced.

"Being caught drink-driving or turning up at work obviously intoxicated should be grounds for immediate dismissal, but the policy needs to be clear and fully circulated to all staff when they join," he said. "Compulsory breath testing outside the public transport arena is still very rare and requires sensitive handling with HR departments and staff/union involvement."

"For many firms, however, the culture may take time to change before a zero-alcohol approach gains the acceptance by staff and management, which is a key part of its successful use."

Eldridge concludes that enforcing a zero-tolerance position could actually be easier for fleets to monitor rather than ensuring that drivers stay below the current legal limit.

"At the end of the day, the company vehicle is an extension of the work place and as such best practice would suggest that drinking whilst engaged in your employed duties is not a professional position to adopt," he said. "The ICFM would support a zero-tolerance position rather than a reduced level of consumption, as this is less likely to create any misunderstanding for either the employer or the employee."

How the rest of the world stacks up

Country mg limit per 100ml of blood
England, Wales and Northern Ireland 80mg
Mexico 80mg
United States 80mg
Australia 50mg
Holland 50mg
Italy 50mg
New Zealand 50mg
Scotland 50mg
South Africa 50mg
Spain 50mg
Switzerland 50mg
Czech Republic Zero
Qatar Zero
Russia Zero