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With drink-drivers responsible for nearly 400 deaths a year, the

8th December 2011
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Page 19, 8th December 2011 — With drink-drivers responsible for nearly 400 deaths a year, the
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Driving Standards Agency is carrying out a thorough overhaul of its failing rehabilitation scheme

Words: Adam Hill

Courts in Great Britain can order drink-drivers to attend a course under the government-run Drink-Drive Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS), which is designed to educate them in the importance of changing their ways.

Drivers who have been disqualiied for at least 12 months may be referred: the attraction for the offender is that if they satisfactorily complete a course, that period of disqualiication will be reduced – perhaps by as much as one quarter. However, there’s one problem: the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) doesn’t think the courses are up to scratch, and has launched a consultation to change things. The 21 organisations that run schemes – including local authorities, training companies and probation services – will lose their right to do so and new tenders will be sought.

The DSA is unable to say how many HGV drivers are involved, but at present around 90,000 drivers are convicted of drink-driving each year and the courts refer 60,000 to the scheme; however, only 30,000 complete the training.

Saving lives

In 2009 2,222 people died in road accidents, and nearly a ifth (380 people) were killed by drink-drivers. The arc of the government’s thinking is clear: higher-quality courses should lower the re-offending rate, which leads to economic and social beneits via reduced accidents and casualties, and improved health and well-being for those not reoffending – and, inally, fewer repeat offenders going through the court system.

The civil service bean counters, whose job it is to quantify these things, reckon that a reduction of one fatality or four serious injuries due to the DDRS reforms will mean beneits would outweigh the costs.

A report by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) found that satisfactory completion of a DDRS course actually reduces the likelihood of re-offending. However, the TRL report also said there was room for improvement in the schemes themselves, inding that there was “wide variation in the measures adopted” by training course providers. Parts of some courses either went against Department for Transport guidelines, or were not covered by the guidelines at all.

Another reason for reform is to make the funding of the scheme fairer. Currently, offenders pay training providers for their rehab courses – and this arrangement will continue under the new proposals. But at present the taxpayer picks up the tab for the cost of administering the scheme, and this is set to change: the DSA now wants to charge training providers £7 per offender to cover the administration of the courses nationwide. “It’s up to the provider whether they choose to pass that on,” says a DSA spokesman. But there seems little doubt that they will – although some courses may actually be cheaper: they will still cost no more than the existing maximum of £250, but the DSA plans to abolish the current minimum fee of £150.

There is no ixed syllabus at present, and the aim is to move towards a standard model – although the government says this will be done in collaboration with the new providers. In other words, the main changes to the courses will not be known until the new structure of training providers has been established. Whatever happens, each course must still include at least 16 hours of contact time with the course facilitator, spread over a minimum of three sessions.

Changes in the programme

If the DSA proposals are followed, all training started before 1 October 2012 must be completed by 25 November 2012. For any not completed by then, the offender will have to return to court and request a new referral.

Organisations wishing to provide the new courses will have a window between 9 April and 4 May next year to apply: those that are successful will be told in June and the new courses will be in place by 1 October.

The stakes in all this are certainly high: if an HGV driver loses his licence for drink-driving, either while in his lorry or private car, the vocational licence is lost and the driver must re-apply for it before the trafic commissioner (TC). A irst rot5M11105 0/1 15 disqualiication for 12 months or less will normally result in the application being granted, but a ‘requirements warning’ letter will be sent. If the irst disqualiication is for more than 12 months but less than three years, there will usually be a further period of disqualiication on a sliding scale of one month per year of disqualiication to be imposed. TCs will rarely be able to take account of the personal circumstances of a driver when coming to a decision.

For hauliers it is therefore worth looking at ways of heading off any potential problems before getting into the painful world of disqualiications and rehab schemes – for example, by monitoring drivers to ensure they are not making early starts while still over the limit from the night before. A recent European Parliament vote suggests that a proposal on trucks being itted with Alcolocks – breathalyser devices linked to the vehicle’s engine that will immobilise it if the driver’s breath reveals he is over the limit – could be in the ofing.

Are Alcolocks the future?

One company that has embraced the Alcolock concept is Volvo, which has been itting them to its trucks in Sweden since 2005. In the irst six months of last year, a quarter of all heavy trucks sold there were equipped with factoryitted Alcolocks. However, at a cost of up to £1,000 to it per vehicle, money is a factor. “There doesn’t seem to be the appetite for it here,” concedes Volvo Trucks spokesman Nigel Hanwell. “But we had enquiries at the CV Show.” He says the industry would prefer the Alcolock to be where drivers collect their keys, rather than in the cab.

That would certainly make it cheaper. At the very least haulage irms should have an alcohol policy that outlines the behaviour it expects from drivers. “It doesn’t have to be a lengthy policy,” says Matthew Yates, head of transport and logistics at law irm DWF. “But employment tribunals do like to see something written down.” His DWF colleague, senior solicitor Vikki Woodine, agrees. “A lot of police are focusing on the ‘morning after’,”she says. “At this time of year, it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind. But it should be at all times.” Suckling Transport of Grays, Essex agrees that safety messaging is vital all year round, but offers speciic advice through lealets to staff in December.

However, it is interesting to note that alcohol only forms part of this seasonal focus: other factors the company attempts to alert staff to are the potential debt issues and even depression caused by the season of goodwill. Such a progressive approach is perhaps still rare in road transport – but awareness and education are the only way to ensure that g 1 truck drivers never have the

need to concern themselves with the DSA’s revamped rehabilitation scheme. ■

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