The Scaffolder, the Sales rep and the Scientist – cautionary tales
The second in a series of three blogs about drink driving
My role as an alcohol consultant is very diverse. I work with large and small organisations up and down the country and I often come into contact with employees and employers who’ve been caught driving whilst under the influence. It’s rare that a drink drive conviction affects only the driver and I’d like to share the stories of some of those I’ve encountered and the impact of their conviction. I’ve changed the names and, where appropriate, other minor details to preserve confidentiality.
I met James as he was coming to the end of a long legal battle to defend his innocence on a drink-drive charge. He’d been found guilty of being several times over the limit as he drove his scaffolding van home on a Monday evening. As a small business owner, he was well aware that if he lost his licence, it could cost him his business and maintained that he would never, ever drink and drive, so there must be a fault with the breathalyser. He’d contested his conviction and run up several thousand pounds worth of solicitor’s fees in the process. He called his employees as witnesses – they backed his assertion that he didn’t drink and drive. In fact, he would take them to the pub after work on Fridays and buy the first round, but only if they turned up without a vehicle. He himself always got a taxi home.
How did this happen then? James was bankrupt and his marriage was failing due to the stress of this whole sorry business and he still maintained his innocence. He called me in to look for anything else that may have contributed to his high breath reading and vindicate him. I asked about his weekend drinking and he admitted that he drank heavily on Friday evenings and then for most of the day on Saturday, but always stopped at midnight, so that he’d be sober for work on Monday. Admirable. Until we worked out that he consumed, on average, over 130 units between 4pm on Friday and midnight on Saturday. He truly believed that by Monday morning his body would be free of any residual alcohol and he was devastated to learn that, at a processing rate of one unit per hour, he wouldn’t be under the drink drive limit until Wednesday. For over 20 years he’d driven his van, erected, climbed checked and dismantled scaffolding whilst over the legal drink drive limit.
The Sales Rep
Claire was a high-flyer. She was a technical sales rep and she was consistently at the top of every sales chart and received every award. She loved her job, too. Yes, it was a high pressure environment and yes, it was stressful, but the rewards included a top of the range BMW and a salary that made my eyes water. She was stopped and breathalysed late one night after a work event at which she had received yet another award. She was nearly three times over the limit. Her employers assured her of their support – after all she was the golden girl. They adapted her workload and gave her a driver so she could carry on as before. And she did. Only now, with no need to stay sober to drive, she drank more – it helped her to sleep, it helped her to chill after a hard day, it was how she celebrated and how she was rewarded, so why not?
By the time her driving ban was over, 23 months later, she realised that she was drinking every day and was scared of driving again because she was constantly under the influence. I talked to her about her recovery options and suggested that she speak to her employers about time off for counselling and continued driving support. She was very reluctant, blaming them for ‘making’ her drink in the first place and convinced that support would not be forthcoming. She added that, at no point over the previous two years, despite the conviction and despite her often talked about drunken antics at work events, had anyone ever suggested that she cut down or that it might be a problem. Rather, she was lauded for her ability to go head to head with the male reps when it came to heavy drinking. Claire stopped coming to our appointments but as far as I know she carried on drinking and started driving again. I haven’t heard from her since.
Pete worked for a pharmaceutical company. A highly respected professional, he was responsible for, well, lots of drugs. He needed to be precise in all his calculations, alert to health and safety issues, conscious of contamination risk and generally on the ball at all times. And so he was – always.
Late one night, Pete’s teenaged daughter phoned asking for a lift home from a party. Pete demurred, he’d had a couple of pints and didn’t want to risk driving. However, they lived in a rural area, it was raining, it was only a fifteen minute drive and he knew the roads well so eventually he agreed. He picked up his daughter and started the drive home. A few minutes later, slowing for a sharp bend, he saw a man in the middle of the road. Braking hard, he skidded and hit the pedestrian head on. Pete told me that the sound of the car hitting the man and then the thud as he hit the ground was something that still wakes him in the middle of the night. The man was seriously injured and still unconscious when the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, followed by a police car. Pete was breathalysed and arrested. He spent the night in a police cell, not knowing whether the collision victim had survived. In fact, he didn’t find out until his court hearing that the man fortunately, was well on his way to recovery.
Apparently, the pedestrian was drunk and had been reported by another driver for walking in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night in dark clothing, towards oncoming traffic. There was probably nothing that Pete could have done to avoid hitting him – even without the two pints. But that’s irrelevant, he was over the limit and that’s an offence. Pete’s employer, though sympathetic, had to let him go. Reputationally, they couldn’t have a lead chemist with a drink drive conviction.
Here are the quiz answers from the last blog on drinking and driving:
1. You can be prosecuted under the drink-drive laws even if you have no alcohol in your body. Do you know how? Under drink drive legislation, you are committing an offence if you fail to provide a specimen for analysis when asked by a police officer. Even if you haven’t been drinking, you are required to provide a breath, blood or urine sample on request.
2. If a woman drinks two pints of lager (5.2%ABV) and a man drinks two large glasses of wine (13%ABV)…
a. who will have consumed the most units? A pint of lager @ 5.2% = 3 units and 250ml of wine = 3.2 units, so he will have drunk more units.
b. who will have the highest percentage of alcohol in their breath an hour later? Women process alcohol differently to men and each unit will raise her breath alcohol by approximately 12ug and his by 7ug, so the woman is likely to have a higher percentage of alcohol in her breath (72ug and 49ug respectively).
3. Are you breaching the drink drive laws if you ride your bicycle whilst under the influence of alcohol? No, but you may be in contravention of the 1872 Licencing Act and subject to a fine.
4. How many ‘sick days’ are taken off work each year in England and Wales because of alcohol? Would you believe a whopping 17 million, according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies
5. If you have a drink drive conviction can you still drive
a. an HGV vehicle? No
b. A forklift truck? Yes, as long as it’s not on the highway (and you have a forklift licence)
c. A mobility scooter Yes, as long as it conforms to certain weight and speed regulations
6. If the company provides free booze at the Christmas party and an employee is arrested for drink driving on the way home, whose responsibility is it? That depends on many factors – but possibly the employer's
7. How many people are injured in drink drive collisions each year? 9,000 is the latest figure, from 2016
8. On what grounds can the police require a breath test from a driver? There are three grounds for requesting a breath test:
a. After a road traffic collision
b. If there is suspicion that the driver is under the influence of alcohol
c. In the event of a moving traffic violation (e.g. failure to stop at a red light).
 IAS Factsheet Alcohol in the workplace
 Department for Transport (2018) ‘Reported road casualties in Great Britain: Estimates for accidents involving illegal alcohol levels: 2016