When a driver’s ability to drive is reduced due to some reason it can be dangerous to the driver and those around him/her. The reason for driver impairment can be blamed on factors like fatigue, injury, infirmity, natural ageing, consumption of alcohol/drug or a combination of these. The most common driver impairment however are ‘fatigue’ and ‘consumption of alcohol/drugs’. They are a real and major problem on the roads. Science has proved over and over the link between alcohol consumption and crash involvement cause reduced driving ability.
Drinking and driving
‘Drunk driving’, 'Driving under the influence' (DUI), 'driving while impaired' (DWI) or whatever you decide to call it, is considered to be one of the most hazardous acts one can do on public roads. This has been recognized as one of the main causes of death and injuries on the roads.
Many countries have imposed rules to reduce the frightening statistics of accidents caused because of driving under the influence. For one, there are laws which prohibit driving while intoxicated. The maximum allowable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is set to make sure that people do not drink and drive. BAC measures the amount of alcohol in the blood and is noted as 'weight by volume'. This may vary slightly between countries.
In India the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.03% or 30 µl alcohol in 100 ml blood. Driving under the influence of alcohol is punishable under Section 185 MVA'88. A Breath Analyzer is used to detect the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath. The higher the concentration of alcohol in the blood, the more is the loss of driving ability. This is mainly because the reaction time slows down, concentration becomes impaired, confidence increases, muscle coordination, visual and auditory ability reduces.
The following drugs are deemed (by the Central Government) to impact a person’s ability to drive:
- Central Nervous System Depressants (Cocaine & Cannabis)
- Hypnotic Sedatives
- Narcotic Analgesics (Morphine etc.)
- Psychotropic drugs (LSD)
- Tranquilizers (Diazepam etc.).
There have been quite a few studies conducted to properly understand the correlation between accidents and blood alcohol concentration levels, for example the 'Grand Rapids' study which was conducted in Michigan, USA between 1962-63. This study was one of the first studies of its kinds and influenced the establishment of laws regarding driving under the influence in America. In 2002 there was a study conducted in Long Beach, California and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These studies have time and again highlighted the importance of having strict laws in place when it comes to drinking and driving.
One particular study, Compton et al (2002), pointed out that the risk of crashes increases with BAC above 0.04 g/100ml. Further, it showed that the risk accelerates quickly if BAC is above 0.1 g/100ml. If the BAC of a driver is 0.1, which is double the level that’s allowed in many European countries, the relative risk of crashing will be more than four times that of the person with BAC level zero. If the BAC level is at 0.15, the risk of crashing will be over 20 times than that of the person with BAC level zero.
The first time a driver is booked for driving under the influence of alcohol, he/she may be booked under the first offense, charged with a fine of up to Rs. 2000 and imprisoned for up to 6 months. If the same person repeats the offense within 3 years of the first offence, then a fine of Rs. 3000 and/or imprisonment of up to 2 years may be imposed.
The punishment for driving while drunk may vary depending on the level of alcohol in the blood. If the level of alcohol in the blood is less than 30 mg per 100 ml of blood, it will not be counted as an offence. If the level of alcohol is between 30-60 mg per 100 ml of blood, the punishment could be imprisonment for up to 6 months and/or a fine of Rs. 2,000. If the level of alcohol is between 60-150 mg per 100 ml of blood, the punishment would be imprisonment for up to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of Rs. 4,000. If the same person repeats the offense within 3 years of the first offence, then a fine of Rs. 8000 and/or imprisonment of up to 3 years may be imposed.
If the level of alcohol in the blood is found to be over 150 mg per 100 ml of blood, he/she may be imprisoned for up to 2 years and fined Rs. 5,000. If the same person repeats the offense within 3 years of the first offence, then a fine of Rs. 10,000 will be charged and it would warrant a jail penalty. Also the licence will be cancelled.
Licence may be revoked for a period of up to 6 months for the first offence and will be cancelled permanently if it is repeated.
Who has the right to conduct a Breath Test?
A police officer who is in uniform/ an officer of the Motor Vehicles Department has the right to ask a person who is driving a vehicle, or attempting to drive in a public place to take a Breath Test. If the breath test proves that the driver has been drinking and the amount of alcohol in the blood is above the level permitted by law, the officer/police officer can arrest the said person without warrant (unless the person is hospitalized).
A person who refuses/fails to take the test can also be arrested by an officer/police officer. If a person is arrested after being identified as ‘drunk’, he/she must be subjected to a medical examination by a registered medical practitioner within two hours of the test. If this is not followed through, the person will have to be released.
What is a Breath Test?
A 'breath test' is done by means of a Central Government approved device. It basically indicates the presence of alcohol in a person's blood. The test is carried out by a person blowing into the device, once or multiple times.
When does one take a Laboratory Test?
The breath test is only the preliminary screening test conducted on a person who is suspected of having a higher level of alcohol than permitted by law to drive. If the person is found to have a high level of alcohol in their system, then a Laboratory Test is conducted. A Laboratory Test is more reliable. The main reason of conducting a Breath Test is because it is convenient in a field setting and allows a preliminary screening. The Breath Test reduces the chances of an innocent person having to go through the ordeal of having a laboratory test just because an officer suspects him/her. The result makes the suspicion of an officer scientific, credible and objective. For a laboratory test, the person will be required to provide blood for testing.