Fri, May 12, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Reining in drunk driving a challenge

When it comes to drunk-driving deaths, it seems that they almost always involve similar elements: A reckless drunk driver behind the wheel of a fancy car kills a diligent, socially disadvantaged young student or an older person who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One such tragedy occurred at dawn on Sunday, when an allegedly drunk 21-year-old driver of a BMW transporting three of his friends hit a 76-year-old female scooter rider in Tainan.

The four in the car suffered abrasions or fractures, which were very minor compared with the injuries sustained by the woman, whose body and scooter were reportedly ripped apart.

Local media reported that the driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.71 milligrams per liter (mg/L), nearly five times the legal limit of 0.15mg/L.

He reportedly had yet to sober up when he was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of his injuries.

According to statistics from the National Police Agency, nearly 7,000 people were injured in alcohol-related road incidents last year, with a total of 156 either being killed on the spot or dying within 24 hours.

Those figures might seem daunting, but they have been worse: 9,691 people were injured and 352 killed in drunk-driving incidents in 2013, dropping to 9,056 injured and 248 killed in 2014 and to 8,061 hurt and 201 dead in 2015. The improvement was thanks in part to an amendment passed by the Legislative Yuan to the Road Traffic Management and Penalty Act (道路交通管理處罰條例) in March 2013.

The amendment increased the maximum penalty for driving under the influence (DUI) from NT$60,000 to NT$90,000. It also allows law enforcement to mete out the maximum fine for drivers who have been caught driving drunk more than twice in five years, or those who refuse to take a Breathalyzer test.

Despite the noticeable drop in serious accidents, many feel that more should be done to curb drunk driving, particularly as DUI recidivism rates remain high and some drivers have exploited a loophole, choosing to be fined for refusing a Breathalyzer test instead of risking being found driving with an alcohol level exceeding 0.25mg/L, which carries criminal charges.

Some local governments have instituted policies requiring repeat DUI offenders to work in morgues, helping to clean corpses as a way of educating them about the value of human life.

Late last month, a new amendment passed a legislative committee review. The bill seeks to increase penalties for drunk driving, including raising the minimum fine from NT$15,000 to NT$30,000, imposing a fine of as much as NT$12,000 for passengers in vehicles driven by a drunk driver and requiring repeat DUI offenders to use fluorescent license plates.

The effectiveness of such measures remains to be seen.

However, given that the young BMW driver’s friends either neglected or failed to talk him out of driving, the deterrent effect of the proposed fine for passengers remains questionable.

As a seemingly high percentage of drunk drivers come from well-off backgrounds, monetary penalties have apparently little effect. Meanwhile, the effectiveness of forcing drunk drivers to help with mortuary work or mandating the use of fluorescent license plates hinges on the assumption that repeat offenders can be reined in by morality or shame.

Perhaps a more practical approach would be to stop trusting the judgement of repeat offenders and put in place measures that could effectively prevent them from getting behind the wheel when drunk. Requiring repeat offenders to install a breath alcohol ignition interlock device in their vehicles — all 50 US states have laws allowing their imposition as an alternative form of punishment — might be a good place to start.

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