On the first day of this new year, Barbados made a significant move for the public good – the introduction of breathalyser testing.
The announcement of the impending measure was made last November by Minister of Transport and Works Dr William Duguid during a service for the United Nations’ Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
Dr Duguid said then: “The introduction of such testing will certainly go a long way in ensuring the safety of the travelling public, and we anticipate that this will be instituted in January of 2020.”
The move has been greeted with a chorus of approval, as it should be.
Last year, Barbados recorded 11 road deaths, notably down from the 28 recorded in 2017 and the 26 recorded in 2018. But decline or not, we still have a long way to go to ensure that there is no senseless loss of life or limb on our roads.
Breathalyser testing the world over is widely used to determine breath alcohol content.
Law enforcement officers use breathalysers on highways and roads to check for drunk driving. Every year, a large number of accidents occur on highways and roads due to this reckless practice by drivers who drink and drive, putting their life as well as the lives of others at risk. Breathalysers have proven to be an effective tool to help maintain proper driving conditions on highways and roads.
The Barbados Road Safety Association (BRSA) had been lobbying for the test to be introduced, picking up the fight first spearheaded by the late Pastor Victor Roach.
BRSA president Sharmane Roland-Bowen time and again raised concern about the number of people who drive under the influence of alcohol, and while she was careful not to place the blame for all the road accidents on drunk driving, she maintained that breathalyser testing would help reduce road fatalities.
“We are always concerned about roads deaths…because one life lost in a road accident is one life that could have been saved. This administration says they love the people and that they are caring for the people, and so they must be able to save us from ourselves from hurting each other,” she said.
So, there is little doubt that this is an important move. But alas, beyond the stipulations of the amended Road Traffic Act Cap 296, little to nothing has been done to sensitize the public.
The law stipulates the prescribed limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or 107 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine.
According to information from the Barbados Government Information Service: “These levels cannot be converted to a specific legal amount of alcohol because alcohol levels are dependent on weight, age, sex and metabolism. That said, as a rule of thumb, two beers or two small glasses of wine would generally put a driver over the limit. It takes around two hours for a serving of regular-strength beer to leave the system.”
With respect to penalties for failing the breathalyser test, “first-time offenders can face a $5 000 fine or two years’ imprisonment, or both, on summary conviction, and will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for 12 months from the date of the conviction. Second or subsequent convictions can result in a $10 000 fine or five years in prison, or both, and will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for five years after conviction. Any subsequent convictions would ban them from having a licence permanently.”
With such important changes, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works should have embarked on a concentrated public education campaign to ensure all drivers are fully aware of how breathalyser testing will be implemented.
Not only do motorists and other stakeholders deserve to fully understand the new rules, but an effective education campaign would also serve to secure public buy-in for the important initiative and put to rest misinformation and any cynicism about the move.
Roland-Bowen today urged authorities to adopt a “phased” approach to the implementation of breathalyzer testing which would shield motorists from random testing while imposing mandatory testing for persons involved in serious accidents.
We support the call and urge the Ministry to better inform the public.