Police, Kenyans worry over Alcoblow

May 2, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 2 – The announcement by acting Transport Minister Amos Kimunya that the government will be re-introducing breathalyzers has elicited mixed reactions from both the police and members of the public.

While some see it as a noble idea which would help curb increased road accidents, both in the urban and rural areas, the top police management is worried of the effect it will have on the corruption levels with the traffic department.

“It is good to have the breathalyzers but, the question is, what we will do to ensure it does not erode our police officers ethics because it may open avenues for bribery,” a senior traffic police officer who requested to remain anonymous said.

But when contacted, Nairobi Area deputy Traffic Commandant Leonard Katana who was instrumental in implementing the breathalyzers before they were shelved following a court injunction said they were studying ways to bring the gadgets back to use.

He would not however, say how soon the breathalyzers which detect blood alcohol levels in the human body will be rolled out.

According to the police, 0.08 mm(mmol/L) is the recommended level by law and anything above that will have a motorist locked up and prosecuted for driving while under the influence of alcohol.

“It will be in use as soon as the logistics plans are over,” he said.

Mr Katana said: “once everything is ready, we will roll it out. All the breathalyzers are in safe custody since they were withdrawn from use.”

The gadget was introduced in Kenya in 2006, and used briefly before the High Court suspended it after a city businessman sued the police and the Attorney General for using a gadget which was not gazetted at the time.

Sources told Capital News the government has since followed due process in ensuring it is legally recognised, including gazetting it.

It is however, not clear what happened with the court case by the businessman who had sued the police and the Attorney General.

Accident rate

He said the police were generally happy about the re-introduction of the breathalyzers because they are likely to reduce the rate of accidents in the country.

According to police, most accidents mainly in urban areas are largely blamed on drunken-driving, resulting to fatalities or serious injuries.

Police said most of these accidents occur between Friday and Sunday [mostly at night].

In Nairobi alone for instance, police said between three to five people are killed weekly as a result of road accidents.

Most of these accidents occur at notable black spots on Mombasa Road, Thika Road, Jogoo Road, Ngong Road and Waiyaki Way.

“Drunken-driving is claiming a lot of lives, it is causing road accidents which should have been avoided and that is why we are happy to have the breathalyzers back,” Mr Katana said.

Statistics available at the Traffic Headquarters in Nairobi show that up to 3000 people are killed annually as a result of road accidents.

Motorists interviewed told Capital News they do not trust the Traffic Police in implementing the use of Alcoblow, as it is commonly known.

Others said they see it as an avenue for corruption.

“I was once stopped [by the police] and ordered to breath into that gadget, I had only taken two beers in town and they told me I was drunk, I pleaded with them and they let me go,” Josphat Ng’ang’a, a second-hand car dealer said.

“And the following day when I tried taking only one drink, I again encountered them and was still found to have been drunk because the gadget had detected a lot of alcohol content in my body, yet I had only consumed one beer. So how many beers are we supposed to drink to avoid being locked up because I ended up parting with some Sh3,000 to be set free,” he posed.

Another motorist Jared Mutiso who confessed his love for the brown bottle said he was prepared for the re-introduction, because he never goes home without taking at least six beers, especially during the weekend.

“It is just simple… to avoid embarrassment, whenever I see them at a road block with those things [Alcoblow] I will prepare Sh1,000 to offer them because I know I am drunk, it is easier when you confess to them that you are drunk instead of waiting to be embarrassed,” Mutiso said.

The gadget is usually implemented through impromptu road checks where motorists are stopped at random to have their alcohol level in blood tested.


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