The case for amending the traffic police law
Tuesday, 20 July 2010 06:18
A short while ago Law No 34/ 1987 of the traffic police, promulgated 23 years ago, started to be applied in Rwanda, especially the sections that deal with people who drive while under the influence of alcohol. In conformity with Article 1, this law governs the traffic police on public roads, pedestrians, vehicles and draft animals, pack and saddle, as well as cattle. The movement of vehicles on rails is not part of this law.
The increasing number of victims of road accidents caused mostly by drunk drivers has attracted the attention of the police and a particular vigilance was necessary to limit the damage.
The law is commendable, as its intent is clearly protective. Nevertheless, it raises many concerns, and Transparency Rwanda feels there should be some amendments made in this respect.
Nowadays the law on traffic has attracted the attention of many, especially drivers who get fined or whose colleagues have suffered such penalties when they are arrested driving under the influence of alcohol.
This is one of the issues that dominated the discussion between the National Police represented by the Traffic Police, Office of the Attorney General and Transparency Rwanda at City Radio on 20/03/2010.
The discussion focused on specific articles of the said law, especially those governing drivers who drive cars on public roads under the influence of alcohol or in an intoxicated state.
Taking as reference Section 3 of this law, particularly Article 10 which stipulates that any person who drives a motor vehicle after consuming alcoholic beverages in quantity and quality such that the amount of alcohol in the blood is greater than 0.80g per litre of blood by the time of driving will be subject to either a prison sentence from seven days to six months or a fine not exceeding Rwf 20,000, or both, Transparency Rwanda’s Executive Secretary Mr Apollinaire Mupiganyi believes that this article gives a broad discretion to the person who imposes the fine because the gap between seven days and six months is quite large.
Although this is not the only law where the legislature gives the trial judge broad discretion in determining the sentence, given the nature of the offence, aggravating or mitigating circumstances should be defined by the law in order to avoid the lead agent to impose the fine in an arbitrary manner.
This gap could easily facilitate corruption because it is not easy to determine the precise legal basis on which person X was punished by imprisonment for seven days, and person Y was sentenced to imprisonment of two months, Z to imprisonment for six months if the legal basis for all the 3 persons is only the amount of alcohol greater than 0.80 grams per litre of blood when they were arrested.
Similarly, Article 8 of the law could be misleading. It stipulates that violation of the regulations of the traffic police not defined by the following articles shall be punished by imprisonment of up to one month and a fine which will not exceed two thousand francs or one of those penalties.The forfeiture shall not be imposed for violations of this law or its implementing regulations.
In case of a road accident caused by a drunk driver killing several people, it is unclear whether the trial judge will apply Article 8 of the law or whether he will simply apply the Penal Code provisions governing manslaughter. In principle it is the more lenient law that should be applied to the accused in this case, the law on traffic police especially that it is specific to the case. But to really make justice to the victims the judge should apply the provisions of the Penal Code.
Despite the gap that exists in this law, it is nevertheless still important.
Applying the law In his speech, Assistant Commissioner of Police John Bosco Kabera responsible for traffic police in the Rwanda National Police said that a large number of known accidents in Rwanda are caused by drunken drivers, so the crackdown comes at an opportune moment to save the lives of Rwandans who die because of drunk drivers. He added that although the law had been around for years without application, it is still the law and must be applied as it is until it is amended if need be.
A number of drivers who reacted to the enforcement of that law have argued that the punishments required by law are heavy especially the imprisonment of six months. They have concerns about the conditions under which they will be punished. Some say it is quite possible that a police officer may slap you with a fine of Rwf 20,000 or may let you go, depending on how you relate with the officer. A judge may also give a prison term of six months, but on what basis? In addition to this, the drivers do not trust the device that measures the amount of alcohol in the blood (breathalyzer). And if the police officer says that a driver has exceeded the level of alcohol how do you contradict him? In addition to that how can someone judge whether it has exceeded the 0.8 g? Drivers who gave comments on the law stated that there is a high risk of easily giving a bribe instead of undergoing an imprisonment of six months.
Basing on these concerns, Transparency Rwanda believes that an amendment to certain provisions of this law would be necessary. The law should also distinguish the case of a repeat offender from a first offender, and sentencing done accordingly.
On top of that, section 42 provides to increase the penalties in these terms: “Fines under this law may be increased up to nine times as the maximum sentence.” This article does not specify under what circumstances the fines under this law could be increased to nine times. The law leaves a wide scope of discretion to the police or judicial officer.
Transparency Rwanda feels that it is not easy to govern all situations that may arise, but believes that the legislature should provide a list of a few cases that could possibly lead the prosecutor or the judge to reduce or increase the penalty.