Just over 700 motorists were found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol after more than 1,000 tested positive in breathalyser tests between 2009 and 2016, official data shows.

According to figures supplied by the police, 702 people were found guilty after being arraigned for driving under the influence of alcohol in the period under review.

During the same period, 1,149 drivers had tested positive when taking a breathalyser test and were subsequently charged in court. Another 349 drivers were found not guilty of the charges brought against them and 99 cases are still pending.

The figures were supplied to the newspaper during a conference on drink-driving organised by the Malta Insurance Association.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera told the conference there seemed to be a misconception on the interpretation of the term “reasonable suspicion” that allowed police officers to carry out tests on those they believed to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

Police officers can only ask a driver to take a test if they have what is described by the law as a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the motorist is driving after having consumed more alcohol than is allowed.

The judge said traffic policemen tasked with conducting breathalyser tests on those suspected of driving under the influence of drink, required more training to know when they could test drivers.

“The term [reasonable suspicion] has to be given a wider interpretation and the officers on the road need more training. The amount of traffic accidents taking place every day runs into the thousands. Does it not warrant more tests? Yes, I think it does,” Madam Justice Scerri Herrera said.

Referring to the high number of drivers who were being acquitted, the judge noted that a good number of the tests carried, “unfortunately”, were often not “thorough” enough. She pointed out that some breathalyser tests were also taken too late.

Insurers unveiled a series of amendments to the law which they plan to push in the coming months. These include introducing provisions on mandatory testing at road blocks, drug tests and increasing fines to at least €3,000 in the case of a first conviction.

They have recently expressed concern that the lowering of drink-driving alcohol limits had little to no impact on traffic accidents, with intoxicated motorists still getting behind the wheel.

Alcohol limits for motorists were cut to almost half last year but the impact was so “minimal” that insurance companies re-ported no improvements in accidents involving drivers who had consumed too much drink.

Insurance companies have since called for stepped up enforcement and harsher fines, insisting that the lowering of limits alone would not result in much improvements and motorists would continue to drink alcohol even when they know they would be driving.

According to the revised rules, motorists are considered to be under the influence of alcohol if they are found to have 22 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

This means that a man of average build is limited to just under a pint of beer or a large glass of wine while women can consume no more than half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.

 

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