Need for extra deterrents to curb drinking and driving?
|Although alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Gibraltar are not as common as in many other places that have a much larger and complicated road network, it is not to say that drinking and driving is any less dangerous to the local road user and society in general.
Despite all the warnings, public awareness and efforts by the Police, in also being more visible in clamping down on drink driving, there are many people in Gibraltar who still get behind the wheel of a car whilst under the influence of alcohol and drive around without giving it a second thought.
The RGP over recent years have conducted various campaigns and have targeted those irresponsible drivers who take control of their vehicle after having consumed alcohol or drugs.
The Royal Gibraltar Police have just this week and following on from previous warnings issued another reminder that they will continue in their robust enforcement of drink driving laws on local roads, they said they will also clamp down on drivers who defy the law and take to drink driving. This is a statement which PANORAMA endorses.
There is an increased prevalence of drink driving on our roads; in fact the police have also said that a number of drivers have already had their driving licences suspended by the courts since the start of the year including hefty fines imposed.
THE LEGAL LIMIT
The legal limit for drivers in Gibraltar is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, the same as the UK; this is often referred to as a BAC or blood-alcohol concentration.
In American terms this is alternatively expressed in terms of breath alcohol - 35 µg (microgrammes) per 100 ml (which is now the usual official measure in the UK), or urine - 107 mg per 100 ml, these are also the same official legal limits on breath and urine samples that are included in our own laws locally.
These limits in fact are often reckoned to be equivalent to two pints of ordinary strength beer which, for a man of average weight, this is broadly true, but should not be used as a general rule - it is practically impossible to draw an accurate correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed and the resulting peak BAC, and anyone trying to "drink up to the limit" which many people attempt, but they run the serious risk of exceeding it.
When it comes to policing powers and additional measures that can be introduced to deter drink driving locally, the Police are at a disadvantage compared with many other police forces around the world. Although the RGP have the powers to require a breath test from drink/drive suspects, the test in question can only be conducted at the Police Station; local laws do not allow the Police to conduct road side tests.
A road side test digital breathalyser is an important piece of equipment used widely by most police forces as a major tool in the fight against drink driving.
Police officers in the UK for example administering a screening road side breath test use this digital breathalyser. This is like a "traffic light" system under which green indicates no alcohol present, amber some alcohol but below the legal limit, and red alcohol possibly above the legal limit.
In the UK a refusal to provide a specimen at this point is an offence, but this itself does not lead to mandatory disqualification, particularly if you subsequently provide a specimen at the police station. This is partly to deter wasting police time.
If your reading is red, you will be arrested on suspicion of drink-driving and required to take a further test at a police station.
You cannot be convicted purely on the evidence of the roadside breath test. The road side breath test apart from acting as a major deterrent, is also a valuable piece of equipment that saves valuable police time, it also gives police officers accurate information at the scene i.e. if a person is over the prescribed limit or not, another advantage for the police is not having to rely on visual borderline cases before taking someone to the police station for confirmation.
At present the RGP in order to require a suspect to provide a breath test, a driver must either commit a moving traffic offence, e.g. speeding, failing to observe at a stop sign, having a defective light etc, or have been involved in an accident to which the police were called, or have given the police grounds to suspect they had consumed alcohol above the legal limit, e.g. by driving erratically or walking unsteadily before getting into the car.
Although there are ‘restrictions’ on police powers to require breath tests, the police are entitled to stop any vehicle without giving a reason - to check vehicle documents etc, this allows them to operate anti drink-driving campaigns, particularly over the Christmas period.
The current practice of Police Station test only is regarded as too limited - it gives police little scope to expand their own policing and policy guidelines and in operationally and effectively tackling drink/drug driving in Gibraltar.
Intelligence-led policing is commonplace in dealing with other crimes; there is nothing wrong in principle with intelligence-led drink-drive enforcement.
It is reasonable to think that the law abiding public would support and understand that extending further powers to the police is in fact in everyone's interest, although none more so than on road safety. All drivers involved in accidents are routinely breathalysed and there is no stigma attached to being asked to take such a test. With extended powers (road side test) certain procedures only have to be developed to ensure that the rights of the individual will be safeguarded, for example in over-zealous policing.
Many people Drink and Drive in Gibraltar and not just youngsters. Just because people are not stopped and arrested by the police does make the situation any more legal than those who are, and who go off the alcohol meter scale after blowing into the police breathalyser machine. There doesn’t appear to be an all round respect or of appreciating the dangers of drink driving on local roads. The Police can only enforce the laws they have at their disposal. Other deterrent values like road side breath testing would go a long way in providing the police with an extra dimension when dealing with this problem, it would also serve as an important road safety and prevention tool as used in the majority of other countries.