Drinking alcohol is a part of Caribbean culture, inherited from the days of slavery. Still today it remains a cornerstone of the Caribbean’s tourism product, with every island bragging that its local spirits are superior. It is a central part of our carnival festivities, second only to soca music. That being said, it is not surprising that the abuse of alcohol, and drinking and
driving by extension, are problems faced by each Caribbean government.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2010, Saint Lucia ranked 35th in the world and second in the Caribbean for the consumption of pure alcohol by adults, beaten only by Grenada which ranked 13th globally in the same year, and first in the Caribbean. With such high alcohol consumption statistics one would expect equally high incidents of alcohol use while driving and the prosecution thereof to be commonplace; however, that is not the case.
The Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act Chapter 8:01 section 75 makes it an offence to “drive a motor vehicle on a road or have care of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, WHETHER IN MOTION OR NOT, while intoxicated”.
Under this law it is an offence to be in control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, the vehicle does not need to be moving and it has even been argued that simply being in possession of your car keys can show sufficient control to give an officer grounds for an arrest. A drunk man sitting in the driver’s seat of his car at the side of the road can be arrested, charged and convicted under the law in force in Saint Lucia. If found guilty the driver is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 XCD or up to one year in prison.
“Intoxicated” is defined under the legislation as having an alcohol content of over:
• 80 milligrams of alcohol per milliliter of blood,
• 107 milligrams of alcohol per milliliter of urine, or
• 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath.
The law also provides police officers with the power to stop drivers who are reasonably suspected of being under the influence of drugs, other than alcohol, and force them to submit to a test. Therefore, a man who is high on marijuana while driving can also be charged under section 75.
A police officer who suspects a driver to be intoxicated may arrest the driver and make him submit to a test whether for alcohol or drugs, with or without the consent of the driver. If the driver fails or refuses to submit himself to the test when required to do so by a police officer he may also be charged for such failure, the penalty for which is the same as if one had been charged with driving while intoxicated: $5,000 XCD or up to one year in prison.
The officer may also choose to detain the driver at a police station until it appears to him that the driver is no longer intoxicated or he may choose to release the driver into the care of a friend or relative.
The question is: with the prevalence of alcohol use and the laws being available to the police, why are drunk driving laws not being enforced?
The problem right now is that the police in Saint Lucia do not have an efficient and convenient mode of testing motorists who they suspect of being under the influence behind the wheel.
Currently, blood tests are most commonly used by the police for testing but that usually requires police officers to take the driver to the nearest hospital or health facility to have the blood drawn.
One can only imagine the difficulties associated with blood testing: the delays in taking the test may skew results, the amount of manpower associated with escorting each suspect to the hospital and the impracticality of having officers leave the scene of an exercise to escort each suspect, the additional strain of already overburdened medical facilities and the cost associated with conducting each test.
What then is the solution?
Other Caribbean territories like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago make use of breathalyzers.
Breathalyzers were introduced in Trinidad and Tobago in the year 2010 and the Guardian newspaper reported in a 2012 article that from the time of their introduction there were some 1,100 arrests for driving under the influence, several of which resulted in the drivers paying hefty fines.
Implementation of breathalyzers would be in the best interest of both the government and the people. On the one hand the government benefits from the fines which the drivers would pay and the people benefit from having safer roads!