An Open Letter to Spkr Pantaleon Alvarez et al: Do you really want to deter drunk driving in the Philippines?
I am writing you as a citizen who is deeply concerned about the number of road crashes in our…
(This article was first posted on GMA News Online)
You’re driving along, minding your own business, and obeying the rules of the road. Suddenly, a police officer signals you to pull over. You stop. He tells you that he wants to give you a breath test to measure the amount of alcohol in your system.
Do you cry “invasion of privacy”? You could, if you were driving in the Philippines. Here, a law enforcer cannot just stop any driver to give a breath test for alcohol.
It’s a long story: The Philippines does have a drink driving law in Republic Act (RA) 10586. It is known as the “Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2013.”
RA 10586 states that the law enforcer first needs to have “probable cause” to believe that the driver has had too much to drink. This means that he first needs to witness a traffic violation—such as lane straddling or speeding.
Only then can the law enforcer flag down a driver. At first, he conducts 3 field sobriety tests. If the driver fail any of the tests, then the law enforcer can use a breathalyzer to determine his blood alcohol concentration level.
Random breath testing to detect alcohol
is a highly visible exercise. Such tests could be encountered anywhere
and at any time in the land Down Under. Photo: WHO/Passmore
In the land Down Under, though, it’s an entirely different story. Australian law allows for random breath testing (RBT). This means that the police can stop any driver at any time for breath testing. The driver need not behave in a way that suggests he is drunk.
“RBT is conducted by police in static, highly visible checkpoints or by mobile police on normal patrol duties,” write researchers Kiptoo Terer and Rick Brown in their paper. “Drivers are determined to be impaired if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds a legally prescribed amount.”
Can someone refuse a random breath test in Australia? FindLaw Australia strongly advises against it.
Refusing to take a breath test is treated as a serious offense, says the FindLaw team. In Queensland for example, anyone who refuses to take a breathalyzer test faces a fine of A$4,000—a whopping ?147,700—or six months in prison. In addition, “anyone who gives an unsatisfactory sample, such as trying to blow a little lighter so there may be no reading, will be judged to have refused a breath test and is guilty of an offense.”
And think again before attempting to do the old switcheroo with someone who had been drinking and driving: “The police can also request a breath test from a passenger of a vehicle who they reasonably believe was a driver.”
“RBT is a leading drink driving countermeasure implemented throughout Australia,” say Terer and Brown. The country’s experience with RBT since the 1980s shows that it saves lives.
Elsewhere, RBT has also had positive outcomes, say the Australian researchers.
RBT is a cost-effective road safety measure, too.
Have your say!
Despite RA 10586, the dearth of breathalyzers in the Philippines has tied the hands of law enforcers. There are only 150 breathalyzers in the entire archipelago. There are simply too few of the gadgets to test enough drivers and to deter them from drunk driving.
Let’s imagine for a moment, though, that there are enough breathalyzers in the country. Would drivers be in favor of introducing random breath testing?
Motoring journalist James Deakin is all for it. “If we were serious about RA 10586, they could introduce the random breath testing vans… at key exits of the city or night spot areas or even car parks,” he says in an email interview. “Have these professionally manned and with CCTV so there’s no foul play.”
But what about those who will cry “invasion of privacy”? Deakin believes random breath testing is “less invasive than any airport or mall security check we go through.” So please, he appeals, “let’s not sweat the petty stuff.”
Dinna Louise C. Dayao ([email protected]) is an independent writer-editor. In September, she attended Safety 2016, a major injury prevention conference in Finland, with support from the ICFJ-WHO Safety 2016 Reporting Fellowship Program and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”
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