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Minister rules out no warning roadside breath tests

The roadside sobriety initiative continued Saturday night into Sunday morning (Photograph by Paul Johnston)

Roadside breath-test checkpoints set up without warning have been ruled out by the transport minister.

Lawrence Scott said he did not recall a conversation at a meeting with former Commissioner of Police Steven Corbishley about the possibility of abandoning notice of checkpoints.

Mr Corbishley had said earlier he would discuss a change of policy with the minister because advertising the presence of checkpoints “frustrates the process”.

Mr Scott said: “I have reviewed the minutes because I do not recall having a meeting where the roadside sobriety announcements came up.

“This is something that we would actually have to discuss. At this time, there are no plans to have the no-advertising aspect brought to fruition.

“The reason that we have the advertisement is to be proactive – we don’t want to be punitive.”

Chief Inspector Robert Cardwell, the head of the traffic police, said that no-warning roadside breath test checkpoints would make the legislation more effective.

Mr Cardwell added: “I expect the result would be further deterrence from committing an offence of impaired driving.

“The current legislation requires us to advertise location, time and date of testing and we are required to get approval from the senior magistrate.

“We would like to have this authority embedded permanently, so that we can do roadside sobriety testing at any given time without notice, which we believe would make the legislation more effective.”

The Road Traffic (Roadside Sobriety Checkpoints) Amendment Act 2018 came into force in July that year.

The legislation said: “As soon as practicable after receiving a written authorisation … an officer of, or above, the rank of superintendent shall cause a notice of a road sobriety checkpoint to be published in the Official Gazette.”

Police set up the first roadside breath test checkpoints at the end of September 2018.

Figures released to The Royal Gazette this week showed that there was a marked increase in the number of arrests in connection to drink-driving after roadside breath tests started.

There were 172 DUI arrests between January 1 and November 30 in 2016 and 187 over the same period in 2017.

The figure jumped to 238 in 2018 and 222 in 2019.

Mr Cardwell said: “In those two years, roadside testing certainly contributed to the increases.”

The number of DUI arrests tapered off to 184 in 2020 and 120 in 2021.

But the numbers may have been influenced by curfews and other public health regulations imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first curfew was imposed in March last year and there have also been stay-at-home orders and closures or restrictions placed on licensed premises.

Constitutional questions such as infringement on freedom of movement have been raised in the past over roadside breath tests.

Mr Cardwell said the Constitution ruled that everyone was entitled to “life, liberty and security”.

He added: “People are dying on our roads. All of these entitlements are at risk if we’re doing nothing about the impaired driving problem.

“The Protection of Freedom of Movement, Section 11(1) states ‘Nothing contained or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section’ … ‘in the interest of defence, public safety, public morality or public health’. ”

Mr Cardwell added: “Roadside sobriety is law in the interest of public safety and public health, so this protection can be impeded according to the Constitution.”

Mr Scott said: “We believe that the best way to change this drink-driving culture in Bermuda is to have people consciously make a decision not to drive under the influence.”

He added that the Government would monitor the effectiveness of the roadside breath- test regime and would make changes if needed.

Mr Scott said: “The more you test the more you find, the more you find the earlier you are able to put in proactive measures so that you can be strategic.”

He added: “We are always looking at it – it is a very fluid situation and is something that we will look at on a regular basis.”

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Published December 10, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated December 10, 2021 at 7:58 am)

Minister rules out no warning roadside breath tests

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