A driver can become severely dangerous to those around him/her if his/her ability to drive is reduced due to some reason. Driver impairment can be caused by several factors such as fatigue, injury, infirmity, natural aging, consuming alcohol/drug, etc. The most common of these driver impairments is ‘fatigue’ and ‘consumption of alcohol or drugs.’ These can be real and major problems on the roads. Science has proved that alcohol consumption reduces one's driving ability, leading to crashes or accidents.
Drinking and Driving
‘Drunk driving,’ often referred to as 'Driving under the influence' (DUI) or 'driving while impaired' (DWI), is considered to be the most hazardous acts committed on public roads. It is recognized to be one of the main causes of accidents, death, and injuries on the roads.
Most countries have imposed strict rules to reduce the terrifying statistics of accidents caused by drunk driving. Most countries have laws that prohibit driving in an intoxicated state. The maximum permitted blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is set in such a way so that it ensures that people do not drink and drive. Each country has set different levels of permissible BAC.
The legal limit for BAC in India is 0.03% or 30 µl of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol is a punishable offense under Section 185 the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988. A 'Breath Analyzer' is the instrument used by the police to detect the amount of alcohol consumed by analyzing the driver’s breath. A high concentration of alcohol in the blood denotes more loss of driving ability. The alcohol content in the blood slows down the reflex or reaction time, reducing one's concentration levels, muscle coordination, visual and auditory abilities.
The Central Government of India has declared that the following drugs can impact a person’s ability to drive:
Central Nervous System Depressants (Cocaine & Cannabis)
Narcotic Analgesics (Morphine etc.)
Psychotropic drugs (LSD)
Tranquilizers (Diazepam etc.)
Many studies have been conducted to accurately assess the correlation between blood alcohol concentration levels and accidents. The 'Grand Rapids' study conducted in Michigan, the USA, between 1962-63 was one of the first of its kind and it influenced the US government to establish laws regarding driving under the influence. Another study conducted in 2002 at Long Beach, California and at Fort Lauderdale, Florida highlighted the importance of strict laws regarding drinking and driving. A study by Compton et al. in 2002, pointed out that a BAC level of above 0.04 g/100ml enhances the risk of crashes.
The first-time offender of drunk-driving booked for driving under the influence of alcohol is charged with a fine of up to Rs. 2000 and may also be imprisoned for up to 6 months. In case the same person repeats this offense within three years of the first incident, then a fine of Rs. 3000 is levied and he/she might also be imprisoned for up to 2 years. The driving license of the offender can be revoked for 6 months for the first offense and it is canceled permanently if the offense is repeated.
The punishment for drunk driving varies as it depends upon the level of alcohol in the blood. In case the alcohol level in the blood is less than 30mg per 100 ml of blood, it is not counted as an offense. If the alcohol level is between 30-60mg per 100ml of blood, the offender could be punished with 6 months of a prison sentence as well as a fine of Rs. 2000. If the alcohol level is between 60-150mg per 100ml of blood, the punishment can be a prison sentence for a year and a fine of Rs. 4000. In case the same person repeats the offense within 3 years, the person could be imprisoned for 3 years and also be charged a heavy fine.
If the alcohol level in the blood is more than 150mg per 100ml of blood, the individual can be imprisoned for 2 years and fined Rs.5000. Upon repeating the offense within 3 years, a fine of Rs.10,000 is charged and a jail penalty is warranted. Moreover, the driving license of the offender is canceled.
Who Can Conduct a Breath Test?
A uniformed police officer or an officer of the Motor Vehicles Department can conduct a Breath Test. Such an officer has the right to ask an individual who is driving a vehicle or is attempting to drive a vehicle in a public place to take a Breath Test. In case the breath test proves that the concerned driver has been drinking and the alcohol level in the blood is above the permissible level, the officer can arrest the drunk driver without a warrant.
If a person refuses or fails to take the test can be arrested as well. A driver arrested after being identified as ‘drunk’ must undergo a medical examination conducted by a registered medical practitioner within 2 hours of the Breath test. If the medical examination is not followed through, the driver must be released.
The 'breath test' is conducted by a device approved by the Central Government. It indicates the alcohol level present in a person's blood. Typically, the suspect has to blow into the device for taking the breath test.
When Is a Laboratory Test Conducted?
The breath test is a preliminary screening test conducted on a driver suspected of drunk-driving. If the breath test proves the presence of a higher level of alcohol in the suspect's blood than the level permitted by law, then a more reliable Laboratory Test is conducted. The Breath Test is more convenient in a field setting and allows for a preliminary screening; it reduces the chances of an innocent person being erroneously subjected to a laboratory test based on mere suspicion. The breath test provides scientific, credible and objective results to a police officer's suspicion and initiates the further procedure of conducting a laboratory test for which a blood sample is required.