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This is why I took alcoblow case to court

Mr Kariuki Ruitha does not want you to drink and drive recklessly this Easter weekend. Drink only to your limit, drive carefully and take a cab if you are too drunk.

However, you must not put other road users at risk.

And just in case you are wondering who Mr Ruitha is, he is the man that those who enjoy their tipple have to thank for the recent court ruling that declared the use of alcoblow illegal.
Mr Ruitha, the owner of Reminisce Bar and Grill on Nairobi’s Lang’ata Road, went to court in 2014 to argue against the use of alcoblow, saying that the rule was unreasonable and oppressive.

ALCOBLOW RULES

The case was thrown out by the High Court. Last week, however, a three judge bench at the Court of Appeal ruled that the rules behind alcoblow were not consistent with the traffic laws, recommending that the legislation be revisited and done right this time round.

Now, seated in a gazebo in the green picturesque Karen scenery of his other establishment — Countryhouse Inn — Mr Ruitha, a stern man who wastes few words, is eager to restore Reminisce to its former glory.

The career banker who opted to concentrate on his businesses in 2010, also owns Ash White hotel in the city centre.

REVENUES DROPPED

When alcoblow was introduced in 2014, his business was among the first to be affected. The club’s revenues dropped by 80 per cent. He had to lay off almost 30 per cent of his staff. That, obviously meant that the families that depended on his businesses also suffered.

However, his problem with alcoblow was not so much about the purpose of the gadget which is used to detect drivers who have taken one too many for the road but with how the rule was being executed.

“The way it is being enforced is very pedestrian,” he said. “Why would you block a road in order to prove an offence? Drinking alcohol is not a crime. If you drink alcohol and handle your motor vehicle properly, what crime have you committed for a police man to stop you at a highway to start sniffing at you? What manners is that?”

Although he believes in the justice of his cause, he said he is misunderstood as supporting drink driving. But, he insisted, that was not the point of his argument. All he wanted was for due process to be followed. He was opposed to the idea of harassing and embarrassing people merely because they enjoyed alcohol.

EXTORT MOTORISTS

He also thinks that alcoblow presents an opportunity for the police to extort motorists, and this is why what he called “mature clientele” fled from his club on Lang’ata Road. None wanted to be embarrassed and filmed while being bundled into police vehicle after failing the alcoblow tests in the full glare of television cameras.

“My club targets the older and middle aged patrons who come from as far as Kiambu, Thika, Limuru, Naivasha and Nakuru to enjoy mugithi on Saturday nights. Now they cannot come because they will be extorted on the road,” he said.

Ruitha’s problem was that there was no public participation while writing the alcoblow rules and stakeholders were not consulted. It took courage for him to move to court to challenge the rules, which he admitted was not cheap.

“I have spent a lot of money on this. My lawyer, Kibe Mungai, does not come cheap. I paid dearly for this,” he said.

In his view, the laws should be drafted and subjected to the right processes. Stakeholders and professional should also consulted and given enough time to debate.

ROADBLOCK

“I do not advocate for drink driving. You should take alcohol to the extent that you can handle your motor vehicle. But having said that, you cannot wait for someone at a roadblock to prove that I will be a potential danger when I have not committed any crime,” he said.

He proposed that Kenya borrow a leaf from Western countries such as the US, which do not use breathalyzers to catch drunk drivers.

“In the US, the police patrol the highways observing drivers, and if they have reason to believe that one is not in control of the vehicle, they will assess the driver to determine level of intoxication. Then they carry out tests to determine if you are in control of your faculties and your motor vehicle. That should happen in Kenya,” he said.

Mr Ruitha expects the ruling to give his business a new lease of life. As soon as the ruling came out, his phone was streaming with messages from friends and clients, many of them congratulating him for his audacity.

“People are very happy. You should see the messages I am getting from far and wide. People now have their lives back and they have some freedom,” he said.

His parting shot?

“Take care, drink alcohol only to the limit you can handle. Drive safely.”