Once deemed illegal, breathalysers were as of yesterday again deployed by traffic officers to detect drivers who throw caution to the wind and drink alcohol before getting behind the wheel.
The approval of the evidential breath analyser device – better known simply as the breathalyser – came into effect yesterday, as per notice in the Government Gazette, under Section 82 of the Road Traffic and Transport Act of 1999. The appropriate gazetting, as directed by the recent High Court ruling, now enables law enforcement agents to reintroduce the use of the device.
National Road Safety Council (NRSC) chairperson Eliphas !Owos-ôab yesterday announced that on the basis of assurances from the Ministry of Justice, the legal framework through which the evidential breathalyser can be legally reintroduced was published yesterday in the Government Gazette, in compliance with the said High Court ruling.
The use of breathalysers was discontinued following Magistrate Gaynor Poulton of the Swakopmund Regional Court’s ruling in 2013, which found that the 2003 notice in the Government Gazette did not meet the requirements of the Traffic and Road Transport Act.
In the trial of Advocate Raymond Heathcote, who was charged with driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor (alternatively driving with an excessive breath alcohol level), Magistrate Poulton ruled in January 2013 that the notice published on May 15, 2003 in the Government Gazette – wherein the former minister of works and transport specified which breathalysers may be used in accordance with the Road Traffic and Transport Act – did not comply with the requirements of the said Act. Consequently the breathalyser test results could not be regarded as legally valid. The State then appealed against the ruling of Magistrate Poulton. As a result of the recent High Court ruling by Acting Judge Nicholas Ndou in the State v Heathcote (CC 24/2013), the use of the results of alcohol breath tests as evidence in court was discontinued, thus forcing traffic authorities to rely solely on blood tests in their road safety campaigns.
!Owos-ôab said since the national road safety conference in October the NRSC has spearheaded the process of reintroducing the breathalyser test. Without the use of breathalysers the process is rather cumbersome and has put traffic law enforcement in “reverse gear”, he said. With the breathalyser test back in use, he noted that the process of ensuring drunk drivers are held to account will be efficient and faster. He added that blood tests would still continue to supplement the readings of the breathalyser test.
He also revealed that the NSRC is spearheading the establishment of dedicated traffic courts countrywide. “It is certainly important to inform the public that the first-ever traffic court will commence next year. With the traffic courts no stone will be left unturned,” he remarked.
With regard to the campaign for the upcoming festive season, which will be launched today at the Otjiwarongo roadblock along the B1 road (stretching from Windhoek to Ondangwa) and the B2 (from Okahandja to Swakopmund), !Owos-ôab said he is disappointed with traffic officers who always set up speedtraps at the same places. “Our law enforcement locations have become predictable. Law enforcement should be unpredictable to motorists. People should expect law enforcement anywhere. They should be positioned beyond the known spots and roadblocks. That is a very stupid and traditional way of law enforcement. We are not winning with our traditional ways, even if we have a lot of officers on the road,” he said.
Chief Inspector Polycalypus Sem of the Police Traffic Law Enforcement Division, however, defended their tactics. He said: “We are challenged, as drivers warn each other about speedtraps on the road and once they know the whereabouts of speedtraps, they slow down, which hampers our work.” Sem said over the festive season Nampol would deploy about 187 traffic officers on both the B1 and B2 roads.
!Owos-ôab said they chose Otjiwarongo for the campaign launch, due the number of major accidents that take place on the northern and southern side of the town.