Fri, Dec 01, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Caning drunk drivers no solution

By Liu Jun-chien 劉潤謙

Perpetrators of ACCIDENTS due to drunk driving always arouse public fury. Three such notorious cases are those of Yeh Kuan-heng (葉冠亨), nicknamed “Master Yeh” because of his wealthy background, British businessman Zain Dean and, most recently, a hostess who worked at the Golden Jaguar club in Taichung.

Some members of the public have proposed on the government’s “Join” public policy e-participation platform that repeat drunk-driving offenders should be punished by caning, and their proposal has gained enough supporters to be put on the agenda for official consideration.

As a psychiatrist, rather than starting from a human rights angle, I would like to discuss the effects of and problems with caning based on my medical knowledge and clinical experience.

People who think caning would be effective assume that offenders would be deterred by their fear of physical pain and injury, and by the psychological stigma associated with this kind of punishment. It could indeed have a deterrent effect on people who enjoy high social status and high incomes, but most drunk-driving offenders do not belong to such privileged social groups.

Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice in Volume 6, No. 2 of its semiannual Journal of Corrections, which was published in July, show that the majority of drunk drivers come from social groups that are not well-off.

Although more offenders are relatively poor, the media do not pay much attention to them because they are not seen as newsworthy.

The data show the most common reasons for drunk driving is people think they have not drunk much or that they only have a short drive home.

Some drivers are willing to take a chance because they think they will not get caught.

Another aspect to consider is the choice of punishment. In many cases, even if offenders are given a prison sentence of less than six months, which can be commuted to a fine, they still choose to serve time.

Perhaps they are thinking: “I don’t have money anyway, so I’ll take whatever punishment they give me.”

If so, it is debatable whether caning would have the hoped-for deterrent effect on people from this social group.

Another group of drunk-driving offenders are people with psychological problems who have difficulty dealing with stress or their emotions.

Rather than being punished, these people need to be referred to psychiatrists for treatment and given social, family and psychological support.

Differences between urban and rural areas should also be taken into account. In cities like Taipei, people can catch a bus or hop on the MRT anytime, but in Penghu County, for example, there are fewer buses especially at night, and bus routes do not pass many places, so many people can only return home by taking a taxi after drinking — a costly option for people with low incomes.

In combination with the chance-it mentality, these factors push up the number of drunk-driving offenses.

In successive policies, Taiwanese legislators have raised the criminal penalties for drunk driving significantly. Despite the changes, there were 52,604 prosecutions for drunk driving in 2011, 52,432 in 2012, 60,484 in 2013, 67,772 in 2014, 65,480 in 2015 and 62,959 last year. These figures clearly do not indicate a significant downward trend.

One result of increased penalties has been overcrowding in prisons. Imprisonment also makes offenders more isolated from society and more disadvantaged, making it even harder for them to quit drinking.

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