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Drinking, Driving and the Law

In 2007 the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act Chap. 48:50 was amended to introduce the breathalyzer law to citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.  Section 70(a)(1) of the amended Act states that no person shall drive or attempt to drive, or be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place if he has consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the proportion in his breath or blood exceeds the prescribed limit.  The “prescribed limit” means that in respect of breath alcohol concentration, thirty-five (35) microgrammes of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of breath, or such other proportion as may be prescribed.

Students of the Hugh Wooding Law School Human Rights Law Clinic were each given the opportunity to write an article for the he “Law Made Simple” column in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper. These topics ranged from analysis of specific legislation, to general legal concepts. The aim of this exercise was to teach the students how to write about complex legal issues, for the average newspaper reader.

The articles were edited by the Clinic’s coordinator Mr. Jason Nathu, and will appear in the Trinidad Guardian over the next few months.

Dayadai Harripaul examined the issue of the ‘breathalyzer’ in Trinidad and Tobago:

Police Powers

A police officer may require a driver or a person in charge of a motor vehicle to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test at or near the place where the request is made, if he has reasonable cause to believe that the person has consumed alcohol above the prescribed limit

Reasonable Cause

A police officer can have reasonable cause to administer a breath test where:

  • he has smelt alcohol in the suspected person’s breath;
  • the suspected person has slurred speech;
  • the suspected person’s eyes are red and droopy;
  • the suspected person is swerving whilst driving on the road; and
  • where the suspected person has poor co-ordination

How is the breath analysis done

A person must provide two separate specimens of breath for analysis and such specimens must be provided in accordance with the directions of an authorized officer.  There must be an interval of not less than two minutes and not more than ten minutes between the provision of specimens and the result. The lower of the two shall be taken to be the result of the breath analysis.

Refusal to take breath test

Where a person is required by a police officer to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test and fails to do so, once the police officer has reasonable cause to suspect that the person has alcohol in his breath or blood that is above the prescribed limit, the officer may arrest the suspected person without a warrant.

Failed Test

If a person is found to have a proportion of alcohol in his breath that has exceeded the prescribed limit after a breath test is administered he may be arrested without a warrant and would be subject to prosecution. 

Penalties

In the case of a first conviction, the suspected person is liable to a fine of eight thousand dollars ($8,000.00) or to imprisonment for three years.  In the case of a second conviction, the suspected person is liable to a fine of fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000.00) or to imprisonment for five years and may be disqualified for a period of three years from the date of the conviction from holding or obtaining a driving permit. If a person is convicted a third time for a like offence, the person shall be permanently disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving permit.

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