AG: Mandatory road ban for impaired driving missing from legislation
A “slip” in the law mistakenly omitted a mandatory roads ban for motorists who plead guilty to driving while impaired, Attorney General Mark Pettingill yesterday acknowledged.
But the courts still retain full liberty to apply the 18-month suspension — and the May 17 commencement of the next Parliamentary session will see the obligatory disqualification reinstated “in short order”, Mr Pettingill added.
The correction to the Road Traffic Amendment Act will not be retroactive.
This technically means that for a few more weeks, magistrates will be free to impose a fine instead of an outright ban.
The loophole came to light this week when Magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo exercised his discretion with a defendant who pleaded guilty to impaired driving.
In that case, the defendant, claiming that a ban from the roads would lose him his job — and possibly his apartment — managed to escape with a $1,500 fine because of what Mr Tokunbo described as a “blunder” in amendments to the legislation.
“I have to say that I concur with the learned magistrate’s view,” Mr Pettingill said yesterday.
“It does appear that in October of last year, when that law was passed, the penalty section that endeavoured to increase the drunk driving ban from 12 months off the road to 18 months off the road, certainly used the words ‘18 months’, but left out the word ‘obligatory’.”
The obligatory disqualification remains in effect for drivers who refuse to comply with a police officer’s demand for a sample of breath, however.
“There’s a gap, and we’re going to close it — that happens,” the Attorney General conceded, adding that neither the then-Opposition One Bermuda Alliance, nor the Progressive Labour Party Government, had spotted the mistake before passing the legislation last year.
He said he was “satisfied” that mandatory disqualification had been the previous Government’s intention.
“But what occurred, as a result of a slip, is a technical defence that the magistrate has rightly raised with regard to what the law is.”
Correcting it will require “a very simple amendment”, he said — adding the word “obligatory”.
In the meantime, Mr Pettingill advised against recently-banned drivers hoping to contest their disqualifications.
“No. Good luck with that. That would be different if we were saying the law was wrong and that they shouldn’t have been suspended — I certainly wouldn’t encourage anybody to try to troop up to the Supreme Court appealing the decision of a magistrate where they were suspended for 18 months.”
Asked if the OBA was still considering lowering a driver’s legal limit of blood alcohol, Mr Pettingill said Government was still considering “all of the options”.
“What we’re doing is canvassing the position with regard to the application of law and what’s going to be the best thing. It’s not a case of losing interest.
“We’re going to be doing something. My own view is that road fatalities, whether attributable to drunk driving or to speed, are the highest cause of non-natural death in this country. That’s one thing we need to address.”
He added: “We are looking at the laws as they apply in other jurisdictions and seeing how they have impacted on their road traffic tragedies.
“In some countries you can see where, in bringing down the level, it seems to correlate with the number of road fatalities coming down.
“And then you look at a place like Barbados, which doesn’t have any drunk driving laws. And their statistics aren’t any worse than ours — not that we’re going to go that way.”
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