After lengthy and contentious debate, Brazil’s Supreme Court has declared the country’s Drink-Driving Law as fully constitutional. Brazil’s ‘Dry Law’ stipulates that drivers must have a blood-alcohol content of zero. It empowers police to administer breathalyzer tests if drivers behave erratically.
Crashes are among the top three causes of death for people aged between 5 and 39 years old in Brazil, and are the leading killer of children aged between 5 and 14. Alcohol use has been attributed to nearly 10% of all deaths from road traffic crashes in the country.
The ratification comes after ten years of wrangling through Brazil’s legal system, going all the way up to the country’s leading legal authority; the Supreme Court. The Law was first challenged under the American Convention on Human Rights in 2012, the main argument being that forcing an individual to take a road-side alcohol test which can be used in criminal proceedings violates their right to not self-incriminate.
Yet by unanimous agreement on May 19 Brazil’s Supreme Court stipulated that the societal benefits of allowing the police to administer breathalyzer tests outweigh the concerns raised around individual rights. This makes the Law fully enforceable and workable.
“The Drink-Driving Law approved in 2012 in Brazil set an important best-practice for other countries, and the big win here is that the law can now be fully enforced. By helping deter drink-driving, it will help save countless lives. The key lesson is that we need to make all laws fully enforceable if we are to rapidly reduce deaths and injuries from crashes. PAHO/WHO’s work with parliamentarians, experts and with key civil society partners has helped make this possible,” says Socorro Gross, Representative of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in Brazil.
As part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, WHO has supported the Brazilian government in tackling the scourge of drink-driving since 2010 under the project “Vida No Trânsito”. This includes providing evidence and best-practices for the creation of new laws and policies, targeted advocacy, facilitating multisectoral policy dialogue, and supporting parliamentarians to provide evidence to help address some of the implementation challenges. The Drink-Driving Road Safety Manual for Decision-Makers, produced by WHO and partners, was repeatedly cited in ministerial documents leading to the Supreme Court’s decision.