Opinion Piece: Mitigating risk and rewarding safety: making the case for drug and alcohol testing in fleet insurance
By Rhys Evans, MD at ALCO-Safe

If driving under the influence is a reason for insurers to reject claims for vehicle accidents, can drug and alcohol testing programs be used by businesses to reduce cover premiums for their vehicle fleets? Insurance companies are always looking for ways to reduce their risk. One way to do this is by charging higher premiums to businesses that have a higher risk of accidents.

Any organisation with a large fleet of delivery vehicles is a greater risk, purely from a number’s perspective and while the risk of driving under the influence is not currently a weighting factor when calculating business insurance premiums, it should be. Workplace testing can reduce the risk of accidents caused by drivers who are under the influence and by regularly testing drivers for drugs and alcohol, businesses can identify and remove drivers who are a risk to themselves and others. This will naturally reduce the number of accidents that occur - leading to enhanced overall fleet safety and efficiency. In turn, surely this should then translate to lower insurance premiums?

Legislative context for workplace testing

When considering commercial drivers, the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their employees, which includes ensuring that employees are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs while working. The Road Traffic Act (RTA) defines "driving under the influence" as having a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.05% or more while prohibiting driving while under the influence of drugs that impair a person's ability to drive safely. The National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) has a number of provisions that are designed to improve road safety, including stricter penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Severe legal and commercial consequences

Liability for a road accident caused by an occupational driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs will depend on the specific circumstances of the accident but in general, the driver can be held liable for the accident if found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Additionally, the employer can be held liable for the accident if they knew or should have known that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and failed to take steps to prevent the accident. Furthermore, accidents caused by drivers under the influence can have significant business consequences. These include financial losses due to liability for damages, potential legal fees, and increased insurance rates. Furthermore, the business's reputation can also suffer, leading to customer loss and productivity may decline if a driver is injured or suspended. In this regard, the business can be held legally liable for such accidents.

From awareness to action: practical risk mitigation

To mitigate these risks (and avoid these costs) businesses should have a strict workplace policy that clearly outlines their stance on driving and consuming intoxicating substances. Employers must consistently enforce their policy while providing training on the dangers of driving under the influence and promoting responsible driving practices. One of the most practical ways to do this is by investing in workplace testing for alcohol and other intoxicating substances.

At their dispatch hubs, a number of significant South African logistics and delivery companies have started a pilot program for mandatory testing, and before drivers are permitted to leave the site with a delivery, they must submit to a breathalyser test. This process is repeated each time the driver returns to the depot to collect a new order for delivery. Such testing is unmanned and automated, simply requiring the mounting of a testing device to a wall near the access control point at a depot location. The access control system can be linked to the results of the breathalyser test - if the driver fails, they are not permitted to proceed. Such testing apparatus can be used to conduct hundreds of tests daily, storing all the data results in a cloud-based platform which makes for easy driver fleet management reporting.

Safety is in the numbers

Using these analytics, it is possible to identify problematic drivers for rehabilitation purposes and to get a clear indication of the overall safety performance of the business. This data can be used for auditory purposes by the relevant labour inspector checking safety compliance and can just as easily be presented to an insurance provider to petition for and justify a reduction in insurance premiums. Just as insurance companies reward individual consumers for driving well (through the placement of vehicle monitoring devices), so too should insurance providers reward businesses with lower premiums in return for proactively mitigating their risk by ensuring driver safety through workplace drug and alcohol testing.