Barbados: Concern over drivers under the influence

Barbados Today:-There’s fresh concern that some private taxi operators and public service vehicle (PSV) operators here are driving under the influence of alcohol.

Without giving any actual statistics, the President of the Barbados Road Safety Association (BRSA) Sharmane Roland-Bowen reported Wednesday that her organization had received several complaints to this effect from visitors, who feared for their safety.

“We are speaking up for our tourists. They come to Barbados to enjoy our sea, sun and rum and yet we are not providing safe roads for them to travel on. We have no breathalyser, we have no legislation to govern or deter persons from going behind the wheel after they have been drinking,” Roland-Bowen complained during a BRSA demonstration against the sale of alcohol to minors at the Four Square Distillery in St Philip.

“Our visitors’ lives are in danger. If you want them to come here, we need to protect them. Most of our visitors, when they go out drinking, they designate a driver, which is a taxi, and because we have no laws to deter those persons from drinking alcohol, we have been getting calls that they got into vehicles and the driver was under the influence,” she stressed.

Roland-Bowen’s sentiments were strongly supported by Canadian visitor Dianne Brunet, who said she had experienced one such situation first hand.

“I was on a ZR van once and the guy was drinking rum and I was not too impressed with that,” the visitor said, adding that she would feel much safer if breathalyser testing were made law.

Contending that Brunet’s experience was by no means an isolated one, Roland-Bowen said members of her organization had also witnessed PSV operators stopping at shops and bars to purchase alcoholic beverages while on duty, without fear of legal repercussion.

“We need this to stop and one way we can stop this is by having the right laws and legislation that would curtail this type of behaviour, because they [the drivers would] know at anytime they could be stopped and checked,” she said.

“We don’t have to go too far because we see almost everyday where our PSV drivers get out of vehicles, go and purchase alcohol and then get back into the vehicle and drive their passengers. That shows how much they value life and we need to get from this negative thinking that alcohol is our culture. That probably was our culture back in the day when we had donkey carts travelling the road, but not in this day and age,” the road safety advocate stressed.

She also accused Government of not placing a high priority on the life and the safety of road users, as she cited the 12 road fatalities that have occurred so far this year, as well as the myriad of potholes in the road system, while charging that there was no urgency on the part of the Freundel Stuart administration to find solutions.

In response, the President of the Association of Private Transport Operators (APTO) Morris Lee told Barbados TODAY he was aware of the complaints and that he wholeheartedly agreed with the call for the introduction of breathalyser testing.

“Drinking of alcohol while driving PSVs or lawless behaviour displayed by any PSV operator . . . has never been condoned by the association, because lawlessness can never merit support at any level,” said Lee, who pointed out that this year marks 25 years that he has been calling for breathalyser testing to be included in the road traffic regulations.

He however made it clear that the problem of alcohol consumption on the roads was not restricted to PSV operators alone. He also suggested that drivers should be tested for illegal substances, such as marijuana.

“When you consider the number of families that have been deprived of their loved ones in two short months every single Barbadian that uses the roads, whether as a pedestrian, a bicycle user, all the way up to a public service vehicle, should be calling on Government to make breathalyser testing part of our road safety regulations,” the APTO spokesman said.

“In addition to that, testing for substance abuse, like marijuana, is something that should also accompany the breathalyser test,” he stressed.

Speaking in Parliament Wednesday, Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley did not address the issue of substance abuse on the roads but he said Government was proceeding with its promised overhaul of the public transportation system.

And if all goes according to plan, the comprehensive changes should be laid in the House of Assembly in another three months.

“Hopefully in June we should be bringing the road traffic amendments to this Parliament,” Lashley said Wednesday during debate on the 2017/2018 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.

However, Lashley dismissed out of hand suggestions that Government was to blame for recent road deaths.