The police have received the go-ahead to begin utilizing breathalyzers on drivers they suspect may have consumed over the now legally prescribed alcohol limit.
President Bharrat Jagdeo assented to the Evidence and Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2008 yesterday at his office in front of a small gathering, giving the police permission for tough enforcement.
This brings to an end the challenges which the police had faced in prosecuting persons suspected of drunk drivingÂ since on many occasions they have had issues with doctors going to court to give evidence.
Under the new law, it will be an offence for any person who drives or attempts to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle if he has consumed alcohol in such quantity that the proportion in his breath or blood exceeds the prescribed limit.
The prescribed limit according to the bill means 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath and blood alcohol concentration of 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. This is equivalent to about two beers.
The amendment bill also provides for the certification of the accuracy of speedometers, radars and weighing devices by the appropriate public officer specified in the document. A document which certifies the accuracy of a speedometer, radar or weighing device may then be produced before the court. The document shall be prima facie evidence of all matters contained therein.
Jagdeo told the gathering that he chose to publicly assent to the bill because of the importance he attached to it. He pointed out that of the 731 accidents between 2004 and 2008, there were 835 deaths and close to half of them were determined to be caused by people driving under the influence of alcohol.
â€œThatâ€™s more deaths in fiveÂ years than all the murders we have had over the comparative period. One of the biggest causes of deaths in Guyana and one of the largest contributors to those fatalities is alcohol,â€ Jagdeo emphasized.
He revealed that in consultations leading up to the passage of the bill, the crafters were told that culturally Guyanese would take a drink and drive and that was felt to be customary and so it would not be easy to change what had now become a part of â€œour DNAâ€.
â€œThis is not a punitive piece of legislation.Â Â This is to force people to act responsibly. Many people may say, so what if I drink and drive a bit â€¦ but when the person who gets killed, when a child gets killedÂ or when a mother or father or relative is killed by someone who is driving under the influence of alcohol, that is when people feel this because it comes right home to them.â€
Jagdeo urged that everyone who has done this in the past find a new way.
â€œI am not going to stop drinking in Guyana although I wish we couldÂ because alcohol drinking contributes to a whole range of other problems that we are battling with â€¦ domestic violence is a key one,â€ he said.
â€œIf you have to drink then find someone else to driveÂ you homeÂ or take a taxi. We have to be tough on enforcing this law. Youâ€™ve heard the number and the statistics, we have to make aÂ difference,â€ he stressed.
Jagdeo said he had declinedÂ to sign the legislation even though it was passed since last year July since he wanted to give the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs enough time to embark on a public education campaign so that members of the public could not have excuses about its enforcement.
He appealed for public co-operation in enforcing the new lawÂ and stressed that this was also integral in tackling serious crimes.
According to the new Act, any person who contravenes the law (drives or attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol), shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of seven thousand five hundred dollars.
A person convicted of two consecutive offences shall â€œunless the court for special reason thinks fit to order otherwise and without prejudice to the court to order a longer period of disqualification, be disqualified for a period of twelve months from the date of the conviction from holding a licence; and a third conviction for a like offence, shall be permanently disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence.
If an accident occurs owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road, a constable in uniform on showing his authority as a member of the Police Force may require any person whom he has reasonable cause to believe was driving or attempting to drive the vehicle at the time of the accident to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test either at or near the place where the requirement is made or, if the constable thinks fit at a police station specified by him being the police station in reasonable proximity to that place.
According to the amendment there are circumstances where a driver at a hospital (after an accident) may only give a specimen of breath after certain conditions are met. A member of the Police Force shall not require any person to undergo a breath test or to submit to a breath analysis if that person has been admitted to a hospital for medical treatment and the registered medical practitioner in immediate charge of his treatment objects on the ground that compliance would be prejudicial to the proper care and treatment of that person.
Speaking with the media following the simple ceremony, Commissioner of
Police Henry Greene explained that previously the police had difficultyÂ in proving drunk driving and prosecution in this regard since a doctor would have to go to court.
With this new law a certificate will be issued and tendered in court. Greene said the tests were veryÂ simple and so he sees no difficulty being experienced by ranks in conducting them.
Asked whether persons leaving parties and concerts would be targeted on their way home, Greene explained that officers would adhere to what the law says.
â€œThe law says you must have cause to suspect and if we have cause to suspect that persons have gone into drunkenness on any occasion this will cause us to take action,â€ he insisted.