April 19, 2011

Drink Drivers

The Road Traffic and Highways (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill was successfully taken through its clauses stage by Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK.

The bill increases the minimum ban for drink-drivers from one to two years and the maximum from three to five years. It sets out that someone whose drink-drive reading is between 115mg and 173mg in blood (the legal limit being 80) would receive a ban of two years, someone with a reading between 173mg and 230mg would receive a three-year ban and anyone over 230mg would be banned for five years.

Juan Watterson (Rushen) tabled amendments to the clause but said rather than moving them he wanted to just raise the issue of graduated penalties.

He said he had no problem with the principle of a higher penalty for higher levels of alcohol but said he thought the top end was set ‘rather high’.

Different forms of punishment, such as restorative justice, community service, should be used instead, said Mr Watterson.

He made it clear he did not advocate drink-driving but said he was concerned at the effect such a long ban would have on some people’s overall quality of life, for example in terms of getting to work.

Quintin Gill (Rushen) agreed with Mr Watterson that ‘the proportionality needs addressing’.

Chief Minister Tony Brown MHK weighed in to say he did believe the upper limit was proportionate.

‘It’s a privilege to have a driving licence, not a right,’ said Mr Brown.

‘If you have that privilege you have a responsibility to the wider public to take care if you are consuming alcohol.’

Mr Gawne also said he thought the higher level of ban was ‘absolutely reasonable’.

‘This is not about someone that’s gone out the morning after a hard night’s drinking, this is someone who is seriously drunk and should not be anywhere near a motor vehicle,’ he said.

John Houghton (Douglas North) tabled an amendment to the bill proposing that its wording creating an offence of causing grievous bodily harm to another person as part of a motoring offence should be changed to ‘serious bodily harm’.

Mr Houghton said the amendment was designed as a helpful measure to differentiate between the charge of GBH in criminal law and this motoring offence.

Mr Houghton said he did not want to diminish the seriousness of the offence but wanted to make it more understandable. Mr Gawne agreed.

The bill also includes provision for the Department of Infrastructure to charge HGV operators for damage caused to the road. This provision only covers new cases and not established operations.

It sets out the police’s powers to seize a vehicle if the driver is suspected of certain offences.

And it introduces sanctions against anyone taking business as a driving instructor without the relevant qualifications.

The next stage will be for Mr Gawne to take the bill through its third reading.

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