An independent senator has issued an early warning about breathalyzer testing, cautioning that it was not completely reliable and that law courts have had reason to throw out such results in some jurisdictions.
During his contribution to debate on the Road Traffic Amendment Bill 2017 in the Upper Chamber,
Sir Henry Fraser, a medical doctor and retired dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, said while he was in full support of the upgraded legislation which introduced a suite of new regulations, he was concerned that the breathalyzer test had its shortcomings.
Sir Henry therefore made a case for the use of blood or urine analysis for a more accurate reading of alcohol levels to determine if a driver was impaired.
According to him, it was now standard for persons to take at least two breathalyzer tests, with a ten-minute period between the tests.
“There are some people who say that more than two tests should be taken because if the ten-minute period elapses and that person is a fast metabolizer, then there may be a significant difference between the two levels . . . and a third test should be taken,” the independent senator said.
Stressing that the person administering the breathalyzer test must be trained, Sir Henry told the Senate: “If the person who might be arrested and who might be asked to take the breathalyzer test refuses to do so and the option in the bill is to take the person to the police station . . . an hour later might effectively metabolize all the alcohol and take the alcohol level in the blood down below the legal level.”
The medical doctor also pointed out that, in some cases, law courts had thrown out breathalyzer test readings that were not confirmed by urine or blood tests.
In his contribution, Sir Henry however rejected suggestions coming from the Opposition Barbados Labour Party that the new regulations would criminalize a large section of the population, saying a person only becomes criminalized after conviction for an offence.
The independent senator also expressed disappointment that rehabilitation was not included in the bill. He explained that people who found themselves with multiple convictions for driving under the influence often had addiction problems.
In this connection, Sir Henry said it should be a requirement that on the first conviction, a drunk driver should be compelled to undergo some form of medical/psychological assessment.
At the same time, he said cannabis use could also impair a driver’s ability on the road and should also be tested for drivers who exhibited signs of impairment.