National Assembly passes Bill to toughen laws on drunk driving

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The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) on Monday passed a slew of revolutionary pieces of legislation through the National Assembly, in the absence of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) who continued their day-long boycott of the 50th sitting.

Among the Bills passed was the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2022, which is aimed at toughening existing laws to prevent drunk driving and the carnage on the road it results in.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, in his presentation on the Bill, stressed the need for the nation to change its mindset. He noted that preventing drunk driving cannot be viewed only as a Police problem, but a problem for the entire society to come together and solve.
“This can’t be the Government’s job alone, and legislative changes alone can never be able to curb this horrendous, tragic loss of human life in our country. Every member of society, every responsible organisation in this country must join hands with our Government, as we begin to chart a new course of making our roads safe,” Nandlall said.

According to the Attorney General, the Bill is about reclaiming the roadways from the chaos and the destruction that drunk drivers cause with their vehicles, which become lethal weapons when they get behind the wheel.

“Our Government’s priority is the protection of our citizens. Public safety is an important objective and security priority, of our Government. An integral factor in the equation of public safety is [the] safety of our roadways. We must be able to traverse our roadways. Our children must be able to traverse our roadways.”

“Our citizens must be able to traverse our roadways with a sense of security and psychological peace of mind that some erratic, drunken driver is not using his vehicle as a lethal weapon along the roadways of this country. We must have that sense of security,” Nandlall also said.

He was supported by Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn, who noted that the Bill is even more significant because it comes at a time when Guyana has reported a 28.8 per cent decrease in road fatalities. Minister of Education Priya Manickchand also lent her voice to the debate.

“That is what we seek here to do today, keep our human resources intact. Look after them, offer them opportunities and see them thrive and grow in this new Guyana that we envision,” Minister Manickchand said.

In a bid to ensure safer roadways, draft amendments to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act, as well as the Intoxicating Liquor Licensing (Amendment) Bill were approved by the Cabinet in March of this year, with a view to toughening up the penalties for drunk drivers – and the bars that serve them.

The Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act sought to amend the Principal Act and put in place a new Section, 35A. This new Section makes causing the death of someone through drunk driving a case of vehicular manslaughter.

The draft Bill also amends Section 39A of the Principal Act – the penalty for driving while over the alcohol limit – replacing the $7500 fine with $200,000, and the sentence of 12 months with 24 months.

It has also been proposed in March that the penalty for driving under the influence and losing control of your vehicle be increased from its current $30,000 to $60,000 fine/imprisonment for 12 months to $200,000 for first-time offenders and $300,000 for second-time offenders.

Also passed during Monday’s sitting was the Suicide Prevention Bill 2022, which contains measures such as a National Suicide Prevention Commission to advise the Minister of Human Services and Social Security on legislation and regulations surrounding suicide prevention and mental health support.

The commission will also be responsible for the preparation of a National Suicide Prevention Plan, and the planning, design and implementation of public programmes to reduce suicides and suicide attempts in the country. It also has to carry out sensitisation and awareness training on suicide and suicide prevention and establish Suicide Prevention Centres across Guyana.

The Restorative Justice Bill 2022 was also passed, paving the way for the establishment of a body that will administer the new Act, as well as educate the country and its citizens on the relatively new concept of restorative justice in the justice system.
The Restorative Justice Bill will give more prominence to the cases of victims of criminal offences and offenders and accentuate the injury it has caused to the persons involved, rather than the violation of the law.