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Call for court to focus on drink drivers

A speciality court could be introduced to focus on drink drivers.

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe said he wants to tackle Bermuda's crippling culture of drink driving and break the cycle of repeat offending.

It would mean offenders go through intense counselling to supplement the fines and bans that Mr Wolffe believes are not working as a deterrent on their own.

Impaired driving is the most significant cause of death and injury on Bermuda's roads, with 75 per cent of crashes involving alcohol or drugs.

Mr Wolffe told The Royal Gazette: “A Driving Under the Influence Court would go a long way in addressing a deep-seated culture of not just drinking, but drinking and driving.

“It would be a way of allowing people to keep their licences, but at the same time go through a rigorous counselling programme to make sure it doesn't happen again.

“We have got to stop the cycle. Clearly, taking them off the road and fining them isn't doing enough. The cycle is continuing.”

The Royal Gazette's Drive for Change campaign, launched last week, aims to improve safety after 118 people have lost their lives on Bermuda's roads in the past ten years. For each death, another 200 people were injured.

Drive for Change is calling for the introduction of non-selective roadside sobriety testing among a string of road-safety measures.

Mr Wolffe said the courts regularly ban drivers from the road and issue heavy fines, but new cases come before the court every week.

He said: “It doesn't seem as if there is the desired deterrent effect. People know they can be taken off the road for 18 months. People know that they can still be fined heavily. People know the penalties, but they still go out and commit these rather serious offences.

“We are seeing people with multiple driving-while-impaired offences. They are coming in for their second, third or even fourth offence.”

Mr Wolffe said a DUI Court, structured similarly to the Drug Treatment Court and Mental Health Court programmes, would also greater empower magistrates.

He said the offence of driving while under the influence carries a mandatory period of disqualification from the road.

However, in some cases such a penalty can have undesired consequences according to Mr Wolffe.

He said: “The difficulty we have is disqualifying someone from driving many times has a knock-on effect.

“If a taxi driver comes into the courtroom, taking their licence is something that can reduce their income substantially.

“If they don't have any income, how are they going to pay their bills? How are they going to care for their children? There is a balancing act we have to play.”

The DUI Court programme could also ensure those who need help receive it.

Mr Wolffe said there is already a programme that allows those disqualified from driving to return to the road sooner if they pass a course.

He added: “Not many people are taking us up on that offer.

“People would rather do their entire time than go through a programme.

“Some of them don't feel they have a problem with drinking and driving, or they think if they go through a programme it's an acknowledgement that they are an alcoholic or they have a problem.”

As well as roadside sobriety testing, Drive for Change is calling for the effective use of speed camera technology and the introduction of a mandatory graduated licensing programme for all of Bermuda's road users.

It is also aiming to raise awareness of road safety and encourage a grassroots, community-wide effort to effect change.

Advocating change: senior magistrate Juan Wolffe (File photograph)

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Published February 05, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated February 05, 2018 at 7:06 am)

Call for court to focus on drink drivers

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