Alcohol discontentBy Aida Sevilla Mendoza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The approval last May of Republic Act No. 10586, aka “An Act Penalizing Persons Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, Dangerous Drugs and Similar Substances,” was hardly noticed by the general public. Private car owners and operators of public utility vehicles and commercial vehicles did not comment or react, most likely because they were unaware of the heavy penalties imposed by the new law and the potential for its abuse by unscrupulous deputized law enforcers.
The Automobile Association Philippines (AAP), at the forefront of promoting road safety, was the first civic organization to welcome the passage of RA 10586 as it had been lobbying for decades for such a comprehensive law, and in fact had been donating breath alcohol analyzers to local government units and hospitals. AAP promptly offered to help the government agencies involved in drafting the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the new law.
Meanwhile, to raise public awareness of RA 10586, Usapan AAP, a monthly interactive media forum emceed by journalist Cito Beltran, focused on the new law last week. The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Health (DOH) and National Police Commission (Napolcom), the government agencies tasked with forming the law’s IRR, were invited to send their representatives for the panel discussion, but only the DOH did so. The DOTC-Land Trasportation Office and Napolcom panelists who had confirmed their attendance failed to show up.
Their no-show was unfortunate, given that the Land Transportation Office is empowered by RA 10586 to deputize traffic enforcement officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), and cities and municipalities to enforce the anti-DUI (driving under the influence) law by conducting field sobriety tests and breath analyzer tests. In general, the traffic enforcement officers of the PNP, the MMDA and local government units don’t exactly enjoy the trust and confidence of most motorists and commuters, giving rise to speculation that they may bungle or abuse their new authority.
ANALYSIS. Fortunately, the experts invited by Usapan AAP to shed light on DUI and its tragic consequences arrived and participated in a lively, informative analysis of the new law: Dr. Jonathon Passmore, technical officer of violence and injury prevention (including road safety) of the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Region; Dr. John Juliard L. Go, WHO national professor/officer for noncommunicable diseases; Dr. Orlando Ocampo, University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) trauma center head, and Dr. Clarito Cairo Jr., medical specialist at the DOH National Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Under Section 3 (e) of RA 10586, Driving under the influence of alcohol refers to the act of operating a motor vehicle while the driver’s blood concentration level has, after being subjected to a breath analyzer test, reached the level of intoxication, as established jointly by the DOH, the Napolcom and the DOTC. Since the latter agencies haven’t as yet set the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit, the standards set by other countries such as the United States (0.08 grams per deciliter, which may be lowered to 0.05 like Australia’s BAC); 0.08 in Brazil, Ireland and Switzerland; 0.02 in the Russian Federation and Sweden are being considered in Japan, where DUI is seen as an extremely shameful public act, the BAC limit is 0.00.
Dr. Passmore said that the WHO Collaborative Study on Alcohol and Injuries concludes that for the general driving population, as the BAC increases from zero to 0.04 g/dl, the risk of being involved in a road crash starts to rise significantly. At around 0.05 g/dl, the crash risk for drivers of four-wheel vehicles is about 30 percent higher than at 0.00 g/dl while for motorcycle riders it is 40 times higher than zero. Per RA 10586, indications of DUI include overspeeding, weaving, lane straddling, sudden stops, swerving, poor coordination or the evident smell of alcohol in a person’s breath.
METABOLISM. Dr. Passmore pointed out that the consumption of alcohol involves the metabolism so impairment varies from person to person. In terms of the body’s ability to metabolize, he noted that the metabolism rate of Filipinos is faster than Caucasians as they can metabolize 0.02 g/dl per hour. So if you are a Filipino male weighing 70 kg and you drink a 425 mL bottle of beer in one hour, your BAC will be 0.02. Two bottles of beer in one hour will increase your BAC to 0.04, when your coordination begins to be impaired but your BAC level is still below the 0.05 limit.
Dr. Passmore added that females can metabolize faster because they have more body water than males. Because of the metabolism factor, Dr. Ocampo stressed that law enforcers should conduct on the spot a field sobriety test on a driver suspected to be DUI instead of bringing him to a hospital for testing. “If the cops get stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital, that will make a difference” in the results of the test, he said.
Dr. Ocampo, who treats almost all the injured patients at the PGH Trauma Center, batted for 0.00 BAC or at most 0.03 for motorcycle riders since they need unimpaired balance and coordination more than four-wheel vehicle drivers to steer safely on the road. AAP president Gus Lagman also favored 0.00 BAC for motorcycle riders ditto teenage drivers, PUV drivers and school vehicle drivers while 0.02 is recommended for professional-licensed drivers of commercial vehicles such as delivery vans, cargo trucks, container trucks, company buses, hotel transports and cars or vans for rent.
The PGH Trauma Center head brought a video showing gruesome photos of beheaded and dismembered victims of DUI-related road crashes, but they may not be as shocking as the penalties for DUI: 1) If the violation did not result in physical injuries or homicide, three months imprisonment and a fine ranging from P20,000 to P80,000; 2) If the violation resulted in physical injuries, the penalty provided in Article 263 of the Revised Penal Code or the penalty provided in the preceding subparagraph, whichever is higher, and a fine ranging from P100,000 to P200,000; 3) If the violation resulted in homicide, the penalty provided in Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code and a fine ranging from P300,000 to P500,000.
REVOKED. In addition, the nonprofessional driver’s license of the offender shall be confiscated and suspended for 12 months for the first conviction and perpetually revoked for the second conviction (underscoring supplied). The professional driver’s license of the offender shall also be confiscated and perpetually revoked for the first conviction. “The perpetual revocation of a driver’s license shall disqualify the person from being granted any kind of driver’s license thereafter,” Section 12 of RA 10586 stipulates. “The owner and/or operator of the vehicle driven by the offender shall be directly and principally held liable together with the offender for the fine and the award against the offender for civil damages unless he or she is able to convincingly prove that he or she has exercised extraordinary diligence in the selection and supervision of his or her drivers in general and the offending driver in particular.”
The topics of probable cause for detaining drivers suspected to be DUI, immediate suspension of a driver’s license, the legality of Random Blood Testing, the accuracy and reliability of breathalyzer tests, the admissibility in court of breathalyzer evidence, sobriety checkpoints and patrols, the use of dashboard cameras to record field sobriety tests, the training of law enforcers, and a nationwide information campaign were also taken up at the 6th Usapan AAP. Dr. Cairo, who is with the technical group meeting weekly on the IRR, said that their deadline is on Sept. 20.
Summing up, Dr. Passmore said that because of the metabolism variation among individuals, the only safe consumption is no consumption if you’re going to drive. “If you’re going to drive, don’t drink. If you’re going to drink, don’t drive,” was his conclusion.