PROFESSIONAL DRIVERS CAUGHT DRUG DRIVING
While drug related problems can arise in any industry, it has been found to be a particular issue amongst professional drivers, some of whom take illicit substances in an attempt to increase their ability to work without rest. Taxi, bus and truck drivers are often on the road for long periods of time. Truck and bus drivers are usually required to keep a work diary and log their driving and rest periods. They cannot exceed the legal limit of working hours per day, and must take mandatory rest breaks.
The maximum allowed working hours for truck and bus drivers is usually 12 hours in any 24 hour period. There are some exceptions for a 14 hour work period. While there is no legal limit for taxi drivers, a similar 12 working hours in any given 24 hours is recommended. The risk of fatigue increases greatly if you exceed the recommended work period, and you may be liable to criminal prosecution if you are involved in a serious accident caused by avoidable fatigue.
Unfortunately, the professional driving industry is often based on productivity payments, meaning the more a driver works, the more money they can earn. So drivers take illicit stimulants to increase their ability to work for extended periods. Surveys find this to be an ongoing concern. A study found that one in five truck drivers regularly use stimulants to stay awake, and more than 50% have taken stimulants at some stage in their career.
Similar numbers have been evidenced in taxi drivers, with a variety of drugs being taken to keep drivers awake. Reports show some taxi drivers take speed, ice, methamphetamine and ecstasy as stimulants to reduce driver fatigue. While these drugs speed up messages between the brain and the body, they also cause lapses of attention, disorientation, aggression and, once the drug begins to wear off, fatigue.
It is illegal to drive while under the influence of an illicit substance, whether you are a professional driver or not. However, if you make your living as a driver, it could mean a loss of not only your licence but your livelihood.
Drug driving is regulated by section 49 of the Road Safety Act. It is an offence to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that the driver is incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. While the section provides that it is illegal to drive on drugs ‘to the extent that the driver is incapable of having proper control of the vehicle’, this has been held to mean any amount of illicit substance found in the body, as even the smallest trace can effect a person’s ability to safely control a motor vehicle.
Under section 55A of the Road Safety Act, Victoria Police are authorised to take a roadside saliva sample. If there is any trace of an illicit substance in your system, you may be issued an infringement notice and you may also be summoned to appear in Court. Your licence may be immediately suspended, and you could face licence cancellation – three months for a first offence up to two years for a subsequent offence. You may also face large fines and even imprisonment, as well as a conviction on your criminal record.
Note that methamphetamine can also be detected in the body for more than 24 hours after being taken. So even if taken for personal use, it may still be detected while you are working.
There are some defences to a charge of drug driving. If you are a professional driver and have been charged with driving under the influence of drugs, you should consult an experienced criminal lawyer immediately. They may help you raise a defence, or advise you to plead guilty to help you keep your licence and avoid a criminal conviction.
Because the police are required to take a sample according to strict procedure, any failure to do so may render the sample inadmissible in Court. A criminal defence lawyer can look to ensure all procedures have been properly followed.
There is also a three hour time limit between driving and conducting a saliva test. If it has been more than three hours since you last drove, you may legally refuse to provide a saliva sample under sections 55A(2) and 55D(8) of the Road Safety Act.
Further, while not a legal defence, magistrates do take into consideration that you need your licence to maintain an occupation. This discretion is only applied in limited circumstances and will often depend on the amount of substance found in your system, whether it is your first offence, your conduct during the testing process and your willingness to comply with road safety awareness courses, drug counselling and any other relevant processes.
You should seek legal help immediately in order to raise a defence so that you may be able to keep your licence and keep working.
Why you need legal help
If you are charged with driving under the influence of drugs, you may face a large fine, criminal conviction, and your licence may be cancelled for an extended period of time – up to two years.
This could mean two years without a major source of income for professional drivers. It may also make it difficult for you to find employment once your licence has been reinstated. Even once you regain your licence, you may face certain driving restrictions and any subsequent infringement would be even more heavily penalised.
An expert criminal defence lawyer may be able to help you keep your licence and keep your job. A specialist in criminal law could raise a defence in your matter, or advise you to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced penalty. This may mean you will be able to keep your licence.
However, because of the dangers posed to the community, the Courts take a tough stance on drug driving. If you have been charged with drug driving it is critical that you seek advice from a legal professional in order to give you the best chance of keeping your licence.
If you are a taxi, bus or truck driver and have been charged with drug driving, act immediately. Your future income could be at stake. Contact an expert criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. We have offices in Dandenong, Geelong, Frankston, Moorabbin, Ringwood & Melbourne CBD