The enforcement of the Vt500,000 traffic spot fine for drunk drivers remains a challenge for police officers.

The issue made headlines when it was announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs in May but to date no one has been penalised, despite the high number of drunk and drive accidents that occurred after the order.

Daily Post’s investigations revealed police have served the drunk drivers who were caught, but so far none of them actually have paid the fine.

The Office of Public Land Transport has recommended that the drivers who are involved in road accident should have their permits removed.

Part 5 of the Public Land Transport Act mentions the issuance of a permit but not the removal of vehicle permits.

Police have been given limited powers to hold a vehicle for only 10 days but not more than that.

When Daily Post recently visited them, they confirmed the arrest of some drunk drivers after the order was signed. These drivers were served with the Vt500,000 fine notice.

Police say they then follow the normal process under the Road Traffic (Control) Act.

On record, drivers who were arrested causing accidents, even killing pedestrians by reckless driving were convicted by the court but very few of them actually got an imprisonment sentence – most of them were given suspended sentences because there are no harsh penalties.

Daily Post was also reliably told that after Minister Napuat signed the order in May, police in Port Vila have recorded only 11 cases of drink-driving.

These 11 cases involved drunk drivers who committed serious and minor accidents, not the drunk drivers who drive around town especially on weekends.

Police authorities again claimed that the number of the drivers significantly exceeded the number of the police officers who are on duty every weekend with only one vehicle – this was the major problem the traffic section was facing in the past.

Authorities say it will be very interesting to hear the opinion of a judge when these cases reach the court.

Daily Post also spoke with several professional lawyers on this issue. They said the minister’s order is a formal order but it may be costly and backfire in a court battle.

According to the ministerial order, once a drunk driver is caught, he will be given 10 days to sort the Vt500,000 fine.

The lawyers commented that it is a risk to sell someone’s property if the proprietor is yet to settle the loan or any other vehicle expenses.

They said this might put the government in trouble.

“The Minister’s order is a good one to deter people to avoid drinking and driving but I don’t think Mr Napuat has exhausted every resources to come up with that order,” a well-known lawyer said.

“There’s a lot more to do, if we want to see it work without question in our society.

“Or else they just need to amend and enhance the Traffic Control Act by passing tougher laws and imposing severe penalties”.

The law prohibits drinking and driving and also police have conducted awarenesses but today most of the accidents are alcohol-related.

Police say it is better for drivers to chose a non-drinking designated driver if they are consuming alcohol.

“Protect others by taking their keys if they attempt to drive after consuming alcohol, they may be mad at you, but the alternative is much worse,” they said.

Meanwhile, Minister Napuat assured the drivers who have been given a spot fine will be dealt with.

In a recent interview with Daily Post, Minister Napuat said the fine refers to Public Land Transport Act Section 31 (1).

He said this applies to a vehicle driven in a manner which contravenes Section 16 of the Road Traffic (Control) Act [CAP 29].

Minister Napuat said the section of the Public Land Transport Act makes direct reference to both.

Section 16 of the Road Traffic Control Act deals with driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

It states: “It is an offence for any person to drive on the public road when under the influence of alcoholic liquor or a drug to such an extent that the driver is incapable of properly controlling his vehicle.

“A police officer shall be empowered without warrant to arrest any person contravening this section.”

The minister pointed out that the section gave Police the power to make an arrest if the driver is drunk or under the influence of drugs.

While questions have been raised in regards to the power of the Public Land Transport Authority (PLTA), Napuat explained that section 37 of the Public Land Transport Act refers to “Power to Impound Vehicle”.

“The PLTA can authorise Police, Municipal Police or any person to arrest a public transport if;

“(a) if the person driving the vehicle has no valid general or tourist driver’s permit; or

“(b) if the vehicle has no public land transport vehicle permit; or

“© if the vehicle does not have an approved number plate; or

“(d) if the vehicle is not in a roadworthy condition; or

“(e) if the vehicle is being driven in a manner which contravenes section 16 of the Road Traffic (Control) Act.”

“(2) A vehicle that is impounded may only be released only after the prescribed penalty fine has been paid”.