Our Traffic Law, listed as Chapter 65 in the Laws of Malta, has covered the subject of driving under a state of intoxication ever since its introduction in the first part of this century.
Since then, the police adopted different means of quantifying this breach of law. The methods used varied according to the technology available, or rather, the latest available in Malta. The most recent addition has been the breathalyser equipment, which started being used last May.
The Breathalyser Test
The introduction of the breathalyser test is aimed at curbing alcohol-related traffic accidents. It is both a preventive measure and a scientific way of calculating what the law has been sanctioning for the past decades: driving under the influence of alcohol.
The test consists of two parts. The preliminary check is held on the spot, using a hand-held alcometre with a disposable plastic pipe attached on top of it. The pipe is hygienically wrapped and, for obvious reasons, a new pipe is opened in front of the driver and clipped without contaminating the mouthpiece. The equipment is very sensitive so much so that if traces of alcohol are still present from a previous test, the equipment registers an error and refrains from taking a new test unless it auto-cleanses. Persons taking the test will be verbally informed that, according to the law, refusal to co-operate amounts to a crime.
The test involves taking a sample of breath, that is, blowing a steady and deep breath into the disposable pipe. The liquid crystal display, on which the alcohol level will be shown, will be visible to the person taking the test at all times.
Persons exceeding 35 microgrammes in the first test will have to take a second test at Police Headquarters in Floriana or Victoria Police Station, in the case of Gozo. A sample of breath would be requested again, and the alcohol readings printed and signed. The print-out can be presented in Court as evidence.
In serious cases, a blood or a urine sample, or both, can be requested and taken under medical supervision.
The legal limit
The legal limit is :
It is extremely difficult to equate 35 microgrammes with an exact amount of beer pints, glasses of wine or tots of whisky. Amounts vary according to the alcohol percentage in the drink, and the consumerís metabolism, physical fitness, fat distribution and liver function. Drivers are therefore advised to be extremely prudent in consuming alcohol. The best deal is for drivers to avoid alcohol completely. This is applicable especially in the case of drivers of route buses, minibuses and any vehicle carrying passengers.
A vehicle that is driven by an intoxicated person is a lethal weapon. According to the law, driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime, not a contravention. Penalties for crimes can constitute imprisonment. The first offence carries a fine of not less than Lm200, imprisonment not exceeding three months, or both fine and imprisonment. In addition, in cases where the proportion of alcohol exceeds the prescribed limit by 8 microgrammes, the Court disqualifies the offender from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a minimum of six months.
A second, and subsequent, offence carries a fine of not less than Lm500 and not more than a Lm1000, a maximum of six months imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment. The Court disqualifies the driver for a period of not less than one year from holding or obtaining a driving licence.
A final word of advice
The breathalyser test is, above all, a measure that is intended to curb alcohol-related traffic accidents. Compliance with the law means safety.
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last modified: February 2012