Tue | May 30, 2023

Call to amend Spirit Licence Act to curb drinking and driving

Entertainment sector should be held more accountable, say experts

Published:Monday | March 6, 2023 | 12:08 AMCorey Robinson/ Gleaner Writer
Executive director, National Road Safety Council, Paula Fletcher.
Executive director, National Road Safety Council, Paula Fletcher.

Paula Fletcher, executive director of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), said there is an urgent need for government to amend the Spirit Licence Act if it is serious about curbing the problem of people driving intoxicated on the nation’s roads.

Doing so, Fletcher said, would demand more accountability of members of the entertainment sector, especially liquor franchises and associates who invest in events aimed at luring youngsters, some of whom end up driving under the influence afterwards.

Her statements followed the launch of a $17.5-million National Drug Prevalence study commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Wellness last week.

Alcohol misuse and its effects on traffic crashes is a main components of the study which will also feature other substance abuse issues from marijuana, cocaine and others.

Last week, Health Minister Christopher Tufton shied away from citing direct policy changes being considered that could come from the findings of the study. Fletcher, however, did not, noting that amendments to the Spirit Licences have been languishing on the law books for years despite local studies directly linking alcohol use and road crashes.


“There are lots of parties where people prepay for alcohol and alcohol flows for the whole night. We have seen crashes after such parties,” said Fletcher. “The dynamic changed over 10 years ago where you no longer have the house parties, the industry has expanded to paid parties, and so you have more players.”

“There are the people who host or rent the venue for the events, you have the people who organise it, promoters, a whole list of people should be held more accountable,” she said, citing proposed recommendations made for the outdated 1928 Spirit Licence Act. “A cabinet submission had been done to look at this matter, but it has not gotten as far as we think it should have and it has been about a decade or so.”

Bolstering the limp breathalyser testing system, ensuring age checks for parties, and revamping the process of acquiring liquor licences will also assuage the challenges.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck on Friday confirmed that a submission is being finalised on the matter and that it should go to Cabinet anytime soon.

“I think it has gone through several reiterations between the various ministries, and there is no doubt that it will improve and allow the police greater flexibility in using the breathalyzer test, Chuck said. “So it is something that is being examined carefully to make sure that when we apply the breathalyzer test we do so without infringing on the rights and freedoms of people on the road,” he said.

Last week Tufton explained that stricter regulations on alcohol could cause certain backlash.

“Alcohol and tobacco are clearly legal products and so to that extent one cannot restrict them being part of the legal trade and all that goes with it except in certain circumstances,” he said. “This is just part of the daily commerce and approach to how society works.”

“The impact of alcohol abuse and excessive use is a public-health issues and there is a role for highlighting that without compromising or restricting normal commerce from taking place. On the illegal side, clearly those are regulated and there is enforcement that goes with that to ensure that the law is carried out.

Meanwhile, Professor Lloyd Waller of the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies said the drug prevalence study will have two components.

“The first is a desk study that will essentially look at the implications of drug abuse on the health sector, and its financial impact on society. The second component is a national survey that will look at drug and substance abuse. The survey will be based on quantitative technique, and we also have elements of qualitative analysis that we will be using,” he said.