Robust’ roadside testing Bill passes
Legislators last night approved the introduction of police checkpoints to screen motorists for sobriety, in a bid to curtail drink-driving.
Transport minister Walter Roban told the House of Assembly that while the Bill was “not the cure-all — but it’s a start”.
Police would first require training at checkpoints in Britain, Mr Roban said, and the requisite equipment would have to be bought.
Under the legislation, officers above the rank of superintendent can get written approval from the senior magistrate if they have “reasonable suspicion that an incident may take place”.
Notice of the checkpoint’s date and parish would have to be gazetted five to 15 days prior, and all vehicles passing through the checkpoint would be required to stop — although not every driver would be subjected to testing.
Officers would have the power to administer a breath test or check for impairment, with an offence incurred if the driver failed or refused to comply.
He conceded that drinking was part of “island culture around the world”.
“This Bill will be the first step in our strategy,” he added, telling MPs a “robust” campaign would be rolled out to educate residents on the checkpoints.
Shadow national security minister Michael Dunkley signalled the Opposition’s approval, saying many drivers nowadays were putting their lives at risk. “It’s out of control,” Mr Dunkley added, making an additional plea for greater personal responsibility.
Mr Dunkley acknowledged that bringing the legislation had been “held up by constitutional issues — that’s a lawyer’s job”.
He noted that even with training delivered in the UK, Bermuda’s legislation looked “quite different from the UK model”.
Mr Dunkley also asked how the equipment would be budgeted for, and whether testing for other drugs had been contemplated.
Opposition MP Sylvan Richards voiced concern over police profiling at the roadside checkpoints.
Leah Scott, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow transport minister, said it is important the legislation has a “strong education component”.
She told the house: “With a community effort, I think that we can get the message out.”
Ms Scott compared the notification element of the law to “riding a bike with training wheels” and continued: “You’re getting people used to the process and then there will come a point where there will not be a notification about the checkpoints, or I hope that we will get to that point, so that people are not readily prepared, they don’t go out anticipating that they can bypass a checkpoint because they’ve been out drinking.”
Kim Wilson, Minister of Health, addressed concerns that specific groups in the community could be unfairly targeted for roadside testing, referring to Section 315F of the Criminal Code that allows police to stop and search without probable cause. She said: “This legislation has a number of provisions in it which will allow for the issues concerning potential racial profiling and the like to be diminished.”
Among them are the written authorisation from a senior magistrate on application from a high-ranking officer, prior public notice, and that “all vehicles travelling through that road sobriety checkpoint will be stopped and checked”.
Ms Wilson said: “The inherent provisions that I’ve just referred to in this legislation will eliminate that and ... it will eliminate the issue of racial profiling and further marginalisation of some of our members in our community.”
Another factor is that the police officers need to have “reasonable and probable grounds to suspect that that person is committing an offence, ie, driving whilst impaired, before they can go on to the next step”.
The minister added: “So unlike 315F that you don’t need probable grounds, this provision allows for the situation where the police must have a reasonable and probable grounds before they can go ahead and pursue, so again it will help minimise the effect of prejudice or racial profiling with respect to this legislation.”
Susan Jackson, shadow health minister, said: “I can’t help but consider the fact that we are talking about what ultimately should become a cultural, behavioural shift, that we can put all of these individual restrictions or these pieces of legislation in place, but until we’re able to actually start to change the mindsets of the people who are using our roads to be more mature and to be safer, then really we could be just dropping a pebble in a very big bucket.
“So with that my big concern is that, again, education, starting with our youth, is huge and certainly I personally believe that the educational programmes that we have introduced for various topics in our community have had a positive impact.
“And so I would very much like to see the sobriety issue a conversation that is introduced at a young age and is something that our young people can begin to understand and believe in and we, as a community, can start to make that cultural shift.”
The House also heard from Diallo Rabain, Minister of Education, who said the Government was “making history” with its legislation and stressed the importance of having appropriate data to review the number of accidents that involved alcohol.
Jeanne Atherden, the Opposition leader, said it was also important to track statistics “test and make sure that systems are working”.
She also questioned if the police would “charge an establishment who has served the person who failed the test”.
But Mr Roban responded: “No, the Bermuda Police Service does not have such legislation in place.”
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