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01 February 2013

Thou shalt not drink and drive: Senate passes Bill No. 3365

Words by Jade Lu
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This is over due, but better late than never. The Senate has finally passed Senate Bill No. 3365, or the Anti-drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2012, last Monday, 28 January 2012. The Bill, which was sponsored by Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, chairman of the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, imposes strict penalties on motorists caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
According to Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) data from 2012 cited by Honasan, almost 2,600 out of 86,602 vehicular accidents last year were drug and alcohol related. Honasan remarks, "It is not clear how the figures have been arrived at but with the lack of equipment and proper training used to check drunk driving, it is not farfetched to assume that the incidences generally attributed to driver's error may be traced to other factors like the use of drugs and alcohol which would increase the percentage of DUI."
With this lack of proper equipment to keep motorists in check, maybe the Philippines should make like France and require all motorists to carry their own breathalyzer kits and road hazard equipment. Better yet, maybe our country should actually require driving and road literacy tests for all motorists on top of owning their own breathalyzer kits. Hopefully, that should lower the total number of fatalities - and unqualified drivers - on the road.
Penalties proposed under the said act are as follows:
    • Drivers caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs that have not caused physical injuries or homicide shall be fined P20,000 to P80,000 and face three months imprisonment.
    • Drivers caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and have caused physical injuries shall be fined P100,000 to P200,000 and face three months to 12 years imprisonment, depending on the severity of the injuries inflicted.
    • Drivers caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and have caused homicide shall be fined P300,000 to P500,000 or imprisonment ranging 12 years to 20 years.
    • Violators holding non-professional licenses will have their license confiscated and suspended for 12 months for the first conviction and perpetually revoked on the second conviction.
    • Violators holding professional licenses will have their license confiscated and perpetually revoked on the first conviction.
    • The perpetual revocation of the driver’s license shall disqualify the person to be granted any kind of driver’s license thereafter.
    • Mandatory alcohol and drug testing will be required for drivers involved in accidents which resulted in injury or death.
Senate Bill No. 3365 was authored by Senators Vicente Sotto III, Jinggoy Estrada, Honasan, Antonio Trillanes, Lito Lapid, Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Ramon Reveilla Jr., Pia Cayetano, and Bongbong Marcos.
The official Senate press release can be found in [this link].
The new Anti-drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2012 is a pretty good attempt at lowering road accidents, but it does fall short in some crucial parameters. More on this by our Online Expert, Leslie Sy, below.
While some are celebrating the passage of the new anti-drunk and drugged driving act, I am advising people to give it a careful and cautious review. At the heart of any law is question if it can be enforced properly, correctly, and fairly.
The typical procedure in a drunk or drugged driving incident would be for the police to pull over a suspected drunk driver's car to give him or her a set of “field sobriety tests.” If the driver is deemed intoxicated, he or she will be required to take a breath analyzer test to see if he is legally drunk. But if believed to be drugged, he or she will be brought to the police station for drug testing.
That sounds well and fine. But looking up a few facts may raise some questions. First, the “field sobriety test” is (at best) a subjective test that is designed for ordinary people to fail. Once you fail this, then you will be required to take the breath analyzer test. Currently, the bill does not specify the minimum blood alcohol level to declare you legally drunk. Worse, false positives with alcohol breathalyzer tests have been known to happen, especially if you have used products containing alcohol including cough syrup, cold medicine, mouth wash, and even lip balm.
The second half of the law deals with drugged driving. To determine if one is under the influence of drugs, a drug screening test will be conducted. A false positive on the drug test is possible if you have ingested certain over-the-counter medicines or prescription drugs or even certain food ingredients. As simple as the common over-the-counter cold or cough medicine or antibiotics (like Amoxicillin) have been proven to result positive in drug screening tests. And there is a long list of over-the-counter medicines and prescription drugs that can result in a false positive. It doesn't have to be limited to medicines, because even your morning bagel (with poppy seeds) can get you a false positive for drug use, which can last as long as a week.
This law should recognize its pitfall and must then have a section to address that fact so to protect the innocent. For now, your best defense is a powerful lawyer, but that will still cost you a lot of time and money.
And between you and me, I don't want to go through all the legal motions for that poppy seed bagel I ate yesterday.