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Campaigners ‘cautiously optimistic’ on testing

Clocking numbers: police constable David Ward demonstrates for Drive for Change how the speed radar gun works (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

Roadside breath test checkpoints are not a silver bullet for the island’s road safety problems, but are the biggest step forwards for years, the head of an anti-alcohol abuse charity said.

Anthony Santucci, executive director of Cada, added he had campaigned for roadside tests for more than a decade.

Mr Santucci said: “This is the next step in changing Bermuda’s culture and its relationship with alcohol.

“This is not about catching people, it is about changing behaviour and that is the most important thing.

“Well done to the Government for making it happen, as well as our partners at A Piece of the Rock, Drive for Change, the Bermuda Road Safety Council and Dr Joseph Froncioni. We got it done.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t take another decade to truly address this social norm.”

Mr Santucci was speaking as the first checkpoints are due to be set up over the weekend.

Dr Froncioni, a surgeon and former chairman of the Bermuda Road Safety Council, began his push for roadside tests about 20 years ago, along with other deterrents including speed cameras.

Dr Froncioni said: “I don’t see this as a sudden cure to this disease; this is an intervention that will gradually alter society’s behaviour and should yield a decrease in road deaths in the long term.

“That’s what happens in other places. People change their behaviour and habits.

“What a properly implemented checkpoint system does is it convinces people that there is a very significant risk they will be caught when they drink and drive.”

Shari-Lynn Pringle, campaign manager for documentary and road safety group A Piece of the Rock, added: “We have been pushing for roadside sobriety checkpoints since the launch of our campaign in the summer of 2017.

“While we are sure that a number of crashes could have been prevented since Cup Match when the checkpoints had been slated to begin, we are relieved that they will now be in place.”

Dennis Lister III, who took over from Ali Bardgett as chairman of the Bermuda Road Safety Council at the start of the year, said the council “fully supports” the legislation.

He added: “The culture of drinking and driving is all too prevalent and we have anticipated this action for some time.

“We look forward to it having a changing effect on the driving culture in Bermuda.”

The checkpoints, which will stop and assess all road users, were designed to reduce the risk of profiling and police will wear body cameras to deter the temptation of unfair or preferential treatment.

Field tests can be administered to people suspected of drinking and driving and hand- held breathalysers can also be used.

People who fail a breath test will be taken to Hamilton Police Station to take another test, which will be admissible in court as evidence.

Refusal to take a test without reasonable excuse is an offence and will result in a fine and a driving ban as failing the test.

Ms Pringle said she was aware of people discussing ways to dodge being caught out at a checkpoint.

She asked: “Is this the conversation we want?”

“Bear this in mind, if someone tips off a drunk driver where the checkpoints are, they could be playing a part in them killing or injuring themselves or an innocent bystander.

“It’s time to face up to the reality that the net is closing in on drink-driving.

“Instead of trying to figure out how to avoid getting caught, try to figure out how to avoid driving under the influence in the first place.

“The legislative changes are starting to take place in Bermuda to make our roads safer, but we all have to be part of a cultural shift towards mature motoring that respects life over recklessness.”

Dr Froncioni added that he hoped that drug tests for road users would be implemented soon.

He said: “There are some easy screening tests for drugs. Impairment with drugs is very similar to impairment with alcohol. There is no reason not to test for it.

Acting Deputy Police Commissioner Martin Weekes released a film this week to highlight that the checkpoints aimed to deter drink driving rather than catch people.

Police will announce the dates and parishes that checkpoints will be used, but will not give exact locations.

Multiple checkpoints can be set up in any designated parish and several parishes can have checkpoints on the same day.