St. Maarten Drunk Driver Saga – Part 1

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On Saturday the 15th of October I was on my way to cheer for the St. Maarten ladies volleyball team in the ECVA competition. Unfortunately, I never made it to the game as I was struck by what would later turn out to be a drunk driver. Without diving into too much details, the police were on the scene quite promptly and all required information was taken from both parties. During the interaction with the Police the intoxicated driver was not allowed to operate his vehicle any further. This was reassuring to me as I was under the impression that once intoxicated, i.e. not able to properly operate a vehicle, that party would most likely be held liable in the event of an accident. Oh boy was I wrong. CARS was also on the scene rather quickly and did a quick, in hindsight, (and in this author’s opinion) very superficial assessment, and left just as quick as they arrived.

A few days later I called my insurance company as instructed by CARS to find out I was given fault because I was turning left onto the main road. From the report I believe zero circumstantiating evidence was taken into account (location & angle of impact, if the motion was completed, brake or skid marks on the road, and most importantly the fact that the other driver was highly intoxicated). Needless to say, I was not happy and truth be told I was on a warpath, ready to go after every entity with court cases and the like. But instead I decided to take another approach in this matter.

Source: The St Maarten Times

In an article posted by the St. Maarten times back in April 2021, this very issue was mentioned. In it the Police eluded to there being no legal basis for administering a breathalyzer test. Fast forward 1 year and 8 months and it seems as though nothing has changed. Having a drunk driver hit into me, I am now on a mission to see the changes required made so that no one will have to be left second guessing our justice system. Interestingly enough, it would seem I am not alone in this mission as almost everyone I have spoken to had a story to share about a similar occurrence where the sober party was still held accountable. It is absolutely absurd to think that someone can be highly intoxicated, cause an accident, and that the other party will be given the fault based solely on the traffic rules. This is a serious loophole that needs to be closed promptly.

I will work together with whatever entities that I need to, to have this injustice righted. Calling on Minister @Anna Richardson, and the Parliamentarians that actually get things done @Melissa Gumbs, @Raeyhon Peterson, please get the ball rolling on resolving this issue. I know, as with a lot of things on this island, it’s never as cut and dry as one might think. There is often more to it than one would think initially. Some time and energy will be spent on understanding those intricacies but at the same time I don’t want to lose sight on actionable solutions. All too often when faced with a problem we want to solve it and every surrounding problem in one shot. This is of course the ideal outcome but very rarely the realistic approach. I can stand here and say that I will help the understaffed police, or that I will write the function book for the entire justice system, but that’s not realistic.

Big changes take place by taking small incremental steps consistently and so I propose a two-part solution. The first is to assess which laws need to be amended to ensure the police have the proper legal basis to administer a breathalyzer in the event of an accident.
The second is to ensure we have several breathalyzers on the island that can be used. Two relatively straightforward action items that can bring us a step in the right direction. I plan to be very public about the progress and any hampering in that process that I may encounter. This being part 1 of that journey.

That said, until our laws are amended please see the below steps to follow if you are unfortunate enough to be in an accident involving a drunk driver aside from the obvious safety measures (checking if you, your passengers, and the other driver are ok):
⦁ Call the police.
⦁ Start filming.
⦁ Gather as much information as possible.
⦁ Look for potential cameras in the area.
⦁ (Try to get the camera footage at the end once police and/or CARS are gone)
⦁ Film the Police questioning the other driver.
⦁ DEMAND that the police make the person take a sobriety test/ call the public prosecutor to administer it, whether that be the walk the line, or pick up a coin from the ground on 1 leg.
⦁ Make sure to log any objection to the above request.
⦁ DEMAND that an official statement is made and entered into the CARS report stating that the Police have noticed that the driver was intoxicated.
⦁ Also film that statement being made.

If you do not do the above steps you can potentially still be held liable for the incident if the basic traffic rules are against you in that situation REGARDLESS of whether the person was drunk/speeding/sleeping behind the wheel.

In part 2 I will follow up with the shortcomings in our laws and provide recommendations on amendments for a more just system while not losing sight on our unique contextual and cultural norms.

Lastly, I would like to bring attention to the St. Maarten Advocacy Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/sxmadvocacygroup

A group initiated to organize the people of St. Maarten who want to see a positive change on the island. In it, solution driven St. Maarteners can then come together, brainstorm, and take action, regardless of who is in political power. It is high time, we the masses who know and want to do better have our voices heard. The time for sitting idly by has come and gone. #Enoughisenough!

David Salomon