Drunk drivers becoming slippery No legislation on control mechanism

By By Jeremiah Ndjoze
August 2011
Namibian drivers who stand accused of driving under the influence of alcohol are now waiting in anticipation to see if their sins will be forgiven in light of the ban of the Draeger breathalyser in neighbouring South Africa.

The Traffic Management Division of the City Police in Windhoek also uses the Draeger breathalyser in determining whether or not drivers on local roads are adhering to the legal alcohol limits when driving within the city.

The Draeger breathalyzer measures the concentration of alcohol in the breath of a driver. The drunk-driving suspects have to blow into a tube that forms part of the equipment, which was designed to detect gas concentration in their breath.

The accuracy of the apparatus, which measures the volume of alcohol vapour in a drinker’s exhaled breath, has been questionable for a number of years, and recently authorities in South Africa took a decisive move and provisionally withdrew a number of DUI cases pending a decision by the Western Cape High Court on the validity of the DUI claims.

The decision came after lawyers who are serving on DUI related litigation cases in South Africa argued that the modern Draeger equipment focused on alcohol vapour in the breath “and not alcohol levels in the blood” although blood testing was still valid.

The lawyers argued that breath-alcohol had no scientifically established direct correlation with a driver’s motor or perceptual skills, or ability to drive. They further contended that the correlation between breath-alcohol and blood-alcohol levels differed from person to person, and that a conviction or acquittal may thus depend entirely on the type of tests used.

The Nam situation

Windhoek City Police, Senior Superintendent Gerry Shikesho confirmed that Namibia uses the Draeger technology for DUI test.

He further confirmed that the results from tests conducted with this apparatus were regarded as valid in all local courts. He, however, maintained that since the Draeger breathalyser was brought under scrutiny the City has resorted to subjecting the drivers through blood tests instead.

“We do the spot checks and once we establish that there is a certain degree of alcohol in a driver’s breath we take the driver through a blood test at the Katutura State Hospital,” Shikesho said.

Queried as to what the City’s stance was regarding the future use of the Draeger breathalyser, Shikesho maintained that the City Police and the City’s Traffic Management division is awaiting the local prosecution authorities to pronounce themselves on the matter “and then we will act accordingly”.
Shikesho confirmed that no complaints by local DUI accused persons have been launched yet and that his division is following the developments in South Africa closely.

Junkie drivers roaming ‘easy’

But drunken drivers are not the only headache the police have to deal with because there are measures in place to control drunken drivers albeit seemingly slippery. The law enforcement officers are now dealing with a new kind of evil – drivers under the influence of narcotics.
Junkie drivers are becoming a rampant problem on local roads because being under the influence of drugs severely reduces a driver’s mobility and vision yet the perpetrators go undetected.

The problem is compounded by the unavailability of legislation the police could utilise in preventing the prevalence of ‘high’ drivers. Also a milestone is the lack of instruments that could be used in regulating the law – had there been such a law.

“Currently, we have a problem. We don’t have an instrument that can detect whether or not a driver is high on drugs,” Shikesho said.

He said they had a presentation a month ago with a local company that informed them on an instrument the City could use to detect the presence of narcotics in the bloodstreams of drivers.

“But even if we procure the services of this company, we still don’t have any piece of legislation that could guide our operations,” said Shikesho.

The deputy police chief called on Government for the amendment of the Transportation Act. He, however, maintained that the speedy amendment of the law can only be realised if all stakeholders including law enforcers and the general public voice their concerns on the matter.

“It also depends on us to make recommendations. We (City Police) are lucky because whenever we raise a concern we always get an audience from Government.” PF