More and more people are appearing in court on Bonaire for driving while drunk. Justice promises to take tougher action. “For many people on this island, drinking and driving is very normal.”
In the first half of the year, 92 drivers were stopped at the roadside or caught driving drunk after an accident. The Public Prosecution Service says it must emphasize during court cases how serious it is to drive drunk, because many people do not realize their bad behavior.
Among a group of residents it is considered ‘normal’ to drive drunk, the justice department sees. “You stand at the snack bar, you drink alcohol, you pay and then you get in your car to drive home. But you don’t realize that you are a potential weapon; that you could kill yourself or an innocent person.”
‘I am punished far too harshly’
Several drivers who have been caught driving drunk believe that the judiciary wants to punish them ‘far too harshly’. “I was unlucky that day when I got caught. Eighty percent of the people on Bonaire drink and drive,” a suspect told the judge.
“They took away my driver’s license, but I need it for my work. Now I have to pay someone $30 every day to drive around for me.”
The judge responds briefly to his story. “It’s your own fault and you won’t get your driver’s license back for a while.”
Another man appears to have more than ten times the permitted amount of alcohol in his blood after he caused an accident. He reacts angrily to the police. “They didn’t even ask if I was okay, but treated me like a suspect!”, he told the judge.
An elderly man’s driver’s license was immediately suspended because he had no less than four times the permitted amount of alcohol in his blood. He does not show much remorse for driving drunk. “I live on the kunuku in Rincon and I need my driver’s license.”
The judge decides to withhold his driver’s license for 10 months and warns the man that if he makes the mistake again, a prison sentence will follow.
Overpriced taxis and lack of public transport
In various lawsuits, people explain why they drive drunk: there is no public transport on the island and taxis are ‘extremely expensive’. This means that a driver has to drive home himself.
“Stay at home or leave the car at home and go home on foot,” the public prosecutor responds.
The Public Prosecution Service is also said to have been shocked by reactions after a fatal traffic accident. “The whole of Bonaire was turned upside down because of the arrest of a drunk driver who killed a cyclist. Let it be very clear to everyone: there is no understanding whatsoever for drink drivers.”
‘Tougher action against drunk drivers’
On Bonaire, as a driver you are not allowed to have more than 220 UCGL of alcohol in your blood. That’s about two glasses of beer.
According to the justice department, tougher action will be taken against drink drivers. In addition to random and planned alcohol checks, it is now standard to carry out alcohol checks after a collision. “To collide is to blow,” says Alwyn Braaf, Chief of Police in the Caribbean Netherlands.
‘Society must help here’
According to the Public Prosecution Service (OM), punishing drunk drivers alone makes no sense, but it does make sense if society as a whole takes action. “If you see someone you know getting behind the wheel drunk, speak to them about it. This should not depend on enforcement and punishment.”