Police launch campaign about driving under the influence

Concern remains about enforcement of new law

As drunk driving continues to claim lives, the police have launched a public awareness campaign that will precede new laws to curtail driving under the influence though there remains concern about enforcement.

Since Christmas, there have been at least two fatal accidents in which alcohol is believed to have been a contributing factor while the police continue to warn motorists against drinking and driving. “There is a new law in town,” the new ads boldly declare, “Don’t drink and drive.” Last July, the National Assembly passed the Evidence and Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Amendment Bill 2008, which is effectively the country’s first driving under the influence (DUI) law and will limit motorists to roughly a two beer limit.

According to the provisions of the new law, there will be a limit of 35 microgrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of breath and 80 milligrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood. Additionally, if an accident occurs as a result of a motor vehicle on the road the police will be vested with the authority to order the drivers to submit to breathalyser tests either at the scene or in a nearby police station. The law also stipulates that in the event of an accident a person at hospital may only submit to a breathalyser test in the event of certain circumstances, except where a registered physician deems that it would be prejudicial to the proper care and treatment of the person.

Upon the completion of the ongoing public education programme, the law will become operational. “Enforcement will be the major issue,” says road safety activist Denise Dias of Mothers In Black and the Alicea Foundation. “[It] will be one of the biggest problems.” Mothers In Black has been among the most fervent campaigners for the introduction of breathalyser tests and held a vigil last year outside the Public Buildings to get the politicians to act. Dias told Stabroek News that the law is much needed because a lot of people drink and drive. “There is a lot of craziness on the road because of over indulging,” she said. “Hopefully, with the law in place people will think twice.”

But she said enforcement will pose the greatest challenge to the police. She noted that while there is supposed to be a ticketing system in operation, most people don’t pay it and where the police insist they go to the station they prefer to offer bribes. As a result, she said a computerised system would help ensure enforcement. Similarly, she noted that while most cyclists are aware that they need to wear helmets, they can get away with breaking the law because of a lack of enforcement.  Last Sunday, an eight-year-old girl, Alecia Forrester, of Parika, East Bank Essequibo, died after being struck by a speeding car at New Road, Vreed-en-Hoop. The car was driven by a driver suspected to have to have been drunk at the time. He fled the scene after the accident, but was pursued and captured by public-spirited citizens. A few days before, University of Guyana student Kellon Griffith, 26, of Atlanticville, East Coast Demerara, died after the vehicle he was travelling in turned over near Clive Lloyd Drive. Alcohol and speeding are said to have contributed to the accident. The driver of the vehicle was later charged.

The police campaign has been promoting the use of designated drivers in cases where motorists insisted on drinking. A designated driver is someone who abstains from alcohol consumption during social outings in order to safely transport their companions to their destinations, an idea that Dias has also been advocating.

According to the new law, any person who contravenes the law shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of seven thousand five hundred dollars. Unless a court considers otherwise, a repeat conviction will attract a 12-month disqualification from holding a licence. A third conviction will result in the motorist being permanently disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence.

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