Drink-drivers get chance to avoid bans
A new drink-driving court is being piloted to give offenders a chance to avoid a driving ban.
The Driving Under the Influence Court will allow drink-drivers to stay on the road if they take part in a “robust programme”, senior magistrate Juan Wolffe wrote in the Bermuda Judiciary Annual Report 2018.
But yesterday it remained unclear how offenders are assessed for eligibility for the programme.
Mr Wolffe indicated in a recent Magistrates' Court hearing that only those who admit having a drink problem can qualify.
Drug-abuse prevention experts stressed the need for professional assessment of offenders to determine who should go on the programme, while road safety campaigners argued mandatory bans serve as a deterrent.
Mr Wolffe wrote in the judiciary report, published in February: “By implementing a pilot DUI Court, offenders will be able to retain their licence if they participate in a robust, structured programme that addresses their drinking and driving impulses.
“By doing so, they are able to continue to be employed and to take care of their families, or to continue to transport their loved ones to school or to the hospital.”
Mr Wolffe told one Magistrates' Court hearing last Friday: “DUI Court is not for people who want to stay on the road. It's for people who want to deal with their drinking problem.
“If you don't have a problem, then it's not for you.”
Truell Landy, executive director for substance abuse prevention charity Pride, said she was not aware of the programme.
Ms Landy said: “From a preventive perspective, there should be an evaluation on where the individual is and what is their relationship to alcohol.
“The assessment would have to be from someone working in substance abuse treatment.
“Then you are looking for a programme that is going to fit so they are able to benefit from the programme itself and it's not just an automatic ‘send'.
“It's time for us to accept that we have a problem with alcohol in Bermuda.
“We can't just give it a brush under the carpet or slap on the wrist — it is time for us to look at it and use the evidence to drive our processes forward.”
Anthony Santucci, executive director for anti-alcohol abuse charity Cada, said: “I agree and the assessment agency should be the Bermuda Assessment and Referral Centre.
“Barc should know if someone has been flagged as having a substance abuse issues.
“A decision should be made as to whether they should get their licence back based on the assessment results. If the assessment results say that someone has an alcohol or addiction problem, they should be automatically put into a treatment programme.”
According to Cada research based on data from the Coroner's Office, between 70 and 75 per cent of road fatalities involve alcohol or drugs.
Legislation introduced in 2013 made sure that people who were convicted of driving while impaired would be banned from the roads for at least 18 months.
A separate DUI education programme is available to drink-drivers that grants them three months off their ban on completion.
A spokeswoman for The Royal Gazette's Drive for Change road safety campaign said: “Mandatory driving bans gave a strong message to the community that drink driving will not be tolerated.
“While the DUI programme is likely well-intentioned, if not properly implemented it could merely help drink-drivers skirt their driving bans so we would like to see more information on it.
“We do not believe that someone should necessarily be eligible for the programme based on their job.
“Professional drivers who spend more time on the roads including those who are responsible for safely transporting members of the public should face as much scrutiny as the rest of us while being given access to treatment.”
Shari-Lynn Pringle, campaign manager of road safety campaign A Piece of the Rock, added: “Part of being personally responsible for your actions is understanding exactly what you stand to lose when you take the decision to drink and drive.”
Mr Wolffe said in an interview with Drive for Change last year: “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 Ministry for Legal Affairs said that all questions about the programme should be directed to Mr Wolffe.
Mr Wolffe declined to comment “at this time”.