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Drink-drivers need to know jail time is a genuine option

After a series of administrative hiccups that delayed its launch by weeks, the Bermuda Police Service's roadside sobriety checkpoints initiative can be regarded a nascent success.

Not a roaring success — because in the overall interest of saving lives, we have suffered the tenth road fatality of 2018 since its launch on the weekend of September 21 to 23 and we still have far more lunatic drivers than a 60,000 population should endure — but significant progress all the same as a reluctant and self-destructive motoring community is dragged into an era of driving for change.

Bermuda's drink-driving culture has accounted for countless deaths on our roads and it has been no surprise that, despite early-warning notices that will be harder to unveil once the Official Gazette moves to the Government's needle-in-a-haystack website, many have found themselves ensnared in a rather loosely fitted web.

With the locations of checkpoints clearly defined well in advance, it is incomprehensible the numbers of Bermudians who believe themselves to be immune to such scrutiny and who determine to take control of a vehicle having consumed three or four alcoholic drinks, or several more in the case of those arrogantly negligent souls whose breath tests found them to be more than three times over the legal limit.

The phrase “some mothers do have them” can be quite easily upgraded to “many mothers ...” given the widespread propensity to commit all manner of driving offences while oblivious to a high accident rate, and annual death rate that has rarely dipped below double figures the past two decades.

Three weekends of mild disruption to traffic have resulted in no fewer than 30 arrests for drink-driving, the detection of those who have no licence or insurance, the seizure of already disqualified drivers, the revelation of those with outstanding warrants, tickets for illegal licence plates and, in one bizarre case, an attempted absconder possessing a machete!

A must-have appliance on a late-night drive through Paget. Don't leave home without one. Who does that?

Minister of National Security Wayne Caines had it absolutely right on launch night when he said: “We need to move away from ‘Bermudians love to drink' to ‘Bermudians want to live — and live healthily and happily'.”

The emphasis being on prevention rather than detention.

But it is appropriate that there be pincer-like teeth put into our legislation to inject real fear of detection into those who are taking the mickey.

The default penalty appears to be 18 months off the road and a $1,200 fine, and we get it that magistrates have their hands tied in relation to how far they can go punitively.

But driving while disqualified, driving without a licence, driving without insurance — these are offences that when combined with driving under the influence are perilous cocktails of the highest order and should be treated as such.

Letting offenders off with fines only for them to reoffend has a deleterious effect, and it may be time that we take more than a leaf out of the British books where the threat of extensive community service and jail time serve as greater deterrents.

The British are famously known to love a pint but they are miles down the road ahead of us on tackling drink-driving and reversing a deathly culture.

Miles ahead.

Sentencing guidelines there, updated in April 2017 by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, allow for unlimited fines and up to six months' imprisonment for drink-drivers and those who drive while disqualified, should they fall in Category 1, which is determined by “higher culpability and greater harm”.

It is this most egregious of three categories that covers any impaired or disqualified driver who is involved in an accident, or who has previous convictions, or who has been proved to have driven a significant distance.

Such a deterrent most definitely must be on our books, if only to scare the bejesus out of would-be offenders — as much as we don't want to affix prison records to swaths of our community.

But getting tough with poor and impaired drivers should mean just that — getting tough.

This includes shining a fresh light on distracted drivers, an element of the casually careless nature of roads usage that often gets lost amid the drink.

Drivers and motorcyclists operating their vehicles while manning their mobile phones or other paraphernalia are a cancer that needs to be rooted out, too.

If drivers knew that they could be hauled before the courts retroactively on the evidence of CCTV footage, no matter how long they were on their phone or reading a goods delivery route, the quest for best practices across the board would be helped immensely, and would clearly establish the police to be instituting a zero-tolerance approach.

Those who fall foul come in all shapes, sizes, races and stature — it is the one genuine area in this country where equity readily can be found, but one that we could do without.

Learning experience: the initial phase of roadside sobriety checks has nabbed no fewer than 30 drink-drivers, with more expected (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 24, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated October 24, 2018 at 9:31 am)

Drink-drivers need to know jail time is a genuine option

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