If you are arrested and charged more than twice in a year for drinking too much beer or whisky before getting behind the wheel of a car, you may be forced to hire a driver for the rest of your life. But the noose is not just tightening around the necks of drunken motorists, as a new Bill Bill opens the window for alcohol tests on pedestrians suspected by police of engaging in disorderly conduct. Already under siege from the ongoing crackdown on drunk driving, motorists who drive under the influence of alcohol are set to face tougher measures once a Bill becomes law.
The draft law, currently before the Senate, would see motorists convicted of the offence of drink-driving three times within a year lose their right to drive. And MPs and members of the disciplined forces would also be forced to dig deeper into their pockets as the Bill proposes that they be stripped of the privilege of accessing duty-free alcohol. The Alcoholic Drinks Control (Amendment) Bill 2014, which also proposes new alcohol limits, is another nightmare for those already under siege from the breathalyser known as Alcoblow, used by the police and agents of the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).
In a raft of tough proposals seeking to strengthen the current anti-alcohol laws, the Senate will soon debate the Bill that could further reduce space for maneuver for offending Kenyans. The Alcoholics Drinks Control Amendment Bill 2014 proposes that a person caught driving while drunk three times within a year could have his driving license cancelled. Whereas the current rules, introduced by Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau, only specify a maximum fine of Sh100,000 for drink-driving, the new proposal is more radical.
The introduction of Alcoblow has been a sustained campaign that has netted thousands of Kenyans since it was reintroduced in December last year. The campaign has attracted support and condemnation in equal measure, with the beer traders complaining of losing business and partakers of alcohol left confused and angered by it.
In its memorandum of objects and reasons, the Bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki, proposes “to amend Section 33 of the Act so as to increase the penalty for being drunk and incapable from five hundred shillings to ten thousand shillings, to require cancellation of driving licenses for those convicted of drunken driving three times within a year and to specify the upper limit of blood alcohol for drunken driving to be 0.005 percent of alcohol in the blood…”
The Bill has already been formally introduced in the Senate and is currently with the National Security Committee for scrutiny. According to House rules, a Bill has to pass through the relevant committee, which could alter the recommendations made by the member introducing it. The Bill could, however, run into turbulence on the floor of the Senate or at the National Assembly should the Committee retain some of the proposals.
Clause 10 of the proposed amendments seeks to deny Senators and MPs whose support it needs the privilege of accessing duty free alcohol within Parliament buildings. It also denies members of Kenya Defence Forces forces the same privilege. Similar proposals contained in the so dubbed “Mututho Bill” failed to go through, amid claims of sabotage.
Under the current laws, MPs and members of the disciplined forces enjoy duty-free alcohol. Kindiki’s Bill seeks to “remove the exemption granted to Parliament and the Disciplined Forces from complying with the provisions of the Act.” Over the years, increasing cases of police officers shooting their colleagues and the public have been blamed on the “tax-free” provision, which allows them to enjoy unlimited quantities of duty-free beer within the confines of officers’ messes and canteens.
The Bill, if it goes through the Senate and is eventually approved by the National Assembly, could help end to all that, according to Nacada Chairman John Mututho. The use of Alcoblow was challenged in court last year, with claims that it was “unhealthy and embarrassing” to be subjected to the test. However, an amendment in the new Bill, which could encourage the use of the device on pedestrians, is among proposals that could prove divisive.
The current law does not specify a limit for pedestrians, but leaves it to the discretion of police officers. The Bill sets an upper limit of 0.01 per cent blood alcohol limit for pedestrians, which is twice that specified for drivers, which is 0.005. But Mututho said the police should be careful in the enforcement of the law, should it come into place, saying that the byword should be “disorderly conduct.”
Mututho said-: “There must be a measurable attribute. The word is ‘drunk and disorderly’. Once you start being disorderly, then the police officer can walk up to you and carry out the test. There should be a rider that the word is ‘disorderly’”. He said stakeholders in the alcoholic beverages industry discussed the Bill in the Senate, and agreed on its provisions. “The introduction of the Bill in the Senate means that the House cannot continue lamenting forever. It shows that Senate is aware that we are losing so many Kenyans. The Senate is not just sitting to lament,” he said.