The Courier-Mail Tuesday 29 March 2005


Drunks may have keys confiscated

Jason Gregory


DRINK-drivers face having their car keys confiscated after police warned they were powerless to stop drunk motorists getting back behind the wheel moments after being booked.


The case of a man described as Queensland's worst motorist over the Easter long weekend has exposed a loophole in the way police can legally deal with drivers who are over the alcohol limit.


The 34-year-old Sandgate driver was caught speeding three times and found drink driving twice in three hours on Saturday night.


The Queensland Police Union yesterday backed the concerns of operational police to call for the new powers to confiscate car keys from drunk drivers.


RACQ spokesman Gary Fites supported changes to the legislation, saying the motoring body "did not want people jumping back into their cars when they had just been charged with drink driving".


Police Minister Judy Spence is considering the call for greater powers, agreeing to refer the idea to the Parliamentary Travelsafe Committee.


"I am always keen to consider new ways to stop drink driving on our roads," Ms Spence said.


If a driver records a 0.15 reading on a breathalyser test three times the legal limit they are taken to the nearest police station for up to four hours to sober up. Their cars are left on the side of the road.


But drivers who register a positive test just under the 0.15 cut-off point are charged by the roadside and given a notice that bans them from driving for the next 24 hours.


They are left standing by their cars with their keys in their hands.


Brisbane Metropolitan North regional traffic co-ordinator Inspector Chris Thomas admitted it was "not unusual" for people to be caught driving only minutes after being booked the first time.


"It is not overwhelming but it is not unusual. They try to sneak away in their cars (but) we can get wise to that and wait for them down the road," Insp. Thomas said.


"We can only do what the legislation allows us to do the legislation works well in most cases."


Queensland Police Union president Gary Wilkinson said police were unable to spare the resources to babysit drivers.


He said police should be able to confiscate the keys of drivers found to be driving drunk as a way of hardening 24-hour driving suspensions already in use.


"You can either take their keys so they cannot drive or lock them up until they are sober because some people seem to forget they have been suspended," Mr Wilkinson said.


"People do it for many reasons often an old mate does not know how to get himself home otherwise, or does not want to take a cab or leave his car out all night. So they get back in and drive home. It is one of those stupid things people do when they are on the drink."


From Thursday midnight to Sunday midnight, 9100 Queensland motorists were charged with speed-related offences and 400 with drink driving. More than 65,000 random breath tests were performed.


Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby supported the confiscation of keys but also wanted government to investigate 24-hour wheel clamping and towing the cars back to the owner's home.


He said people had forfeited their right to use the roads by driving drunk and should not be given the opportunity to return to the road while still over the limit.

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