The use of breathalyzers by the police is soon to be made legal, and further, people caught driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs would be penalysed if they refuse a blood test ordered by the cops if for some reason the person cannot do a breath test.
The Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2018 was passed this week in the House of Representatives and the next step is for it to go before the Senate, after which it would have to be approved by the governor general and gazeted before it becomes law.
An amendment to Section 54 states, “A person who when driving or attempting to drive, or when in charge of a motor vehicle on a road is under the influence of alcohol or drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle, or is stopped by a police officer and is found over the prescribed limit by a mandatory test is liable on summary conviction.”
For a first time offender, the penalty is up to $10,000 or imprisonment not exceeding three years. A second offence would result in a fine no more than $15,000 or incarceration up to five years. The repeat offender could even be permanently disqualified from having a driver’s licence.
Section 54F of the Bill defines “the prescribed limit” as: (a) breath alcohol concentration, thirty-five microgrammes of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of breath or such other proportion as may be prescribed; and (b) blood alcohol concentration, eighty milligrammes of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood, or such other proportion as may be prescribed.
Legal Affairs Minister Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin said that stricter penalties would force people to act in accordance with the law.
“You know the number of persons that end up with impairments as a result of accidents? It is amazing,” Benjamin said.
Another major change on the way is the use of certain devices while driving, to include cellular phones.
The Bill outlines an amendment to Section 56, which speaks about careless driving.
It reads, “If any person drives a motor vehicle on a road while holding or using a hand-held mobile device, or without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road, he commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction for a first offence to a fine of one thousand dollars and to disqualification from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence for three months, and for a second and every subsequent offence to a penalty of twenty-five hundred dollars and to disqualification from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence for one year.”
The Member of Parliament for St. Mary’s South, Samantha Marshall, commended her labour party colleague, Benjamin, for responding to the calls of the police force.
She expressed concern about the bad practices of some drivers, including those who use devices such as Bluetooth.
“You can be so easily distracted and in a second, that’s all it takes for you to have an accident. Love your life as no other person can love your life,” she told parliament.
Marshall also said people are too impatient on the road these days.
Immediately following Marshall’s contribution, Speaker of the House Sir Gerald Watt QC warned that enforcement will be key to the success of the pending measures.
Opposition Leader Jamale Pringle, United Progressive Party (UPP) MP for All Saints East and St. Luke, supported the proposed legislative changes but expressed the hope that the measures would be applied equally to all motorists.
“We should also have a follow up process to make sure they are enforced and not wait until there is a situation to look at it to better it,” Pringle said, stressing that the new legislation should be implemented across the board and free from bias.
“We have to make sure they are enforced not in a manner that they are for some persons. We know some people have friends,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the proposed law seeks to remove the power to make Regulations from the Cabinet, and places it in the power of the minister with responsibility for vehicular control.
The purpose of the Bill is to tighten up on bad road use by facilitating the police’s use of equipment to test alcohol levels of motorists, and to bring the Act up to date with respect to the offence of using a hand held mobile device while driving a vehicle as is being done in other jurisdictions.