Police to scrap drink-drive 'buffer' policy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2008, 12:00am

End of the road for rule that saw 107 drivers go free last year

Police have confirmed that they plan to scrap a policy that has seen hundreds of drink-drivers set free despite being over the legal limit.

The news comes a day after the Sunday Morning Post revealed that the force had effectively added more than 20 per cent to the legal limit - of 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath - under a policy that has been operating for 13 years.

At the same time, police have sought to clarify the operation of the policy, which allows drivers with up to 27 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml to walk free.

Police revealed last night that 107 drivers had benefited from the policy last year alone.

The force had previously denied the Sunday Morning Post's requests for statistics on how many drivers had been warned and released under the policy.

In a statement, David Ng Ka-sing, chief superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch, denied drivers who tested between 22 and 27 micrograms would be allowed to continue on their way.

The Sunday Morning Post had been seeking an explanation of the policy since last Wednesday.

'No driver who has conducted a screening breath test will be allowed to drive on if the reading exceeds the prescribed limit,' Mr Ng said.

Rather, he said, they would be arrested and taken to a police station for an evidential breath test.

'If the evidential breath test indicates a result above 22 but less than 27 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath, under current practice the driver will be warned and no further action ... will be taken.

'Upon release the driver will be warned that ... if he were to drive he could be subject to a screening breath test and, depending on the result, he could be rearrested. 'This practice ... will be scrapped.'

However, a spokesman for the police said last night that it would remain in place 'until such time that all related procedural matters can be dealt with'.

News of the policy's impending demise was welcomed by Sky Lam Sui-kai, convenor of a 'Black Ribbon' campaign set up after friend and expectant father John Desmond Hew, 39, was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a drink-driver on the Eastern Island Corridor last month. 'We are very pleased to hear that,' Mr Lam said. 'Before we had no idea that police had this policy - it was a very strange one ... and a bit of a shock.'

Lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee, who has chaired the Legislative Council's transport panel while it has overseen gradual tightening of the city's drink-driving laws, expressed bewilderment at the existence of the policy.

'I don't understand why they would do it,' she said of the police's unilateral adoption of the policy.

'It has never been mentioned in the transport panel. I am of course very concerned if they are not enforcing the law to the letter.'

The only time Ms Lau had heard mention of a policy regarding the setting of thresholds for screening breath tests was during recent discussions regarding the introduction of random breath testing.

At that time it was decided that the handheld devices soon to be purchased by police would be programmed to return a positive result if the driver had a breath alcohol level of 20 micrograms or more per 100ml of breath.

'That was the only occasion we have heard any reference to the thresholds. Personally, if it was a Legco session right now I would certainly be asking them why this policy exists.

'When Legco comes back - and assuming I am re-elected - I will certainly be bringing this up.

'I want to give the police an opportunity to explain this policy.'

Motorists' associations had argued against removing the buffer because of fears of errors, although they said they supported calls for more random breath tests as a deterrent