Wed, Oct 10, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Time to get tough on drunk drivers

The Executive Yuan needs to be applauded for approving a draft amendment to the Road Traffic Management and Penalty Act (道路交通管理處罰條例) that would require people who are caught driving under the influence of alcohol to pay for the compulsory safety lectures they are required to attend, instead of the government covering the costs.

The act should have been amended long ago, as it places a burden on taxpayers for other people’s wrongdoings.

The bill is one of many indicators that the government is serious about curbing drunk driving and giving teeth to traffic regulations, which have too often led to ridiculously light sentences for drunk drivers, even for those who caused fatal accidents.

The government in June raised the penalty for drivers who try to flee from a police checkpoint to a NT$20,000 and a six-month suspension of their driver’s license. The measure took effect last month.

However, the penalty for refusing to submit to a breath alcohol test is NT$90,000, which is why people demanded a bigger fine for motorists who try to escape from checkpoints in the first place. Facing a choice between paying a NT$20,000 or a NT$90,000 fine, some drunk drivers could be tempted to flee. Even if they are eventually caught, their actions could pose a serious public risk as they speed down the streets in an attempt to flee the police — more so than refusing to take a breath alcohol test.

From January to March, 15.2 percent of motorists who were stopped at police checkpoints in New Taipei City refused to take a breath test, preferring to pay the NT$90,000 fine instead of facing drunk-driving charges. The ratio in Taipei was 11.4 percent.

Vague remarks by government officials have already cast doubt on whether the amended act would be enough to discourage drunk driving.

Department of Railways and Highways Director-General Chen Wen-juei (陳文瑞) told reporters last week that the amendment would hopefully deter drunk driving, while Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) declined to disclose exactly how much the offenders would pay for the lectures, saying: “What matters more is the spirit of the bill, which is to ensure fairness by having people who disobey the law pay for their offenses instead of taxpayers.”

Such “government-speak” leads to the suspicion that the figure would not be enough to deter drunk driving, as significant fines have yet to alleviate the problem.

Amending the law would indeed ensure fairness to taxpayers, but its other effects are in doubt.

What really would make a difference is clamping down. Taipei prosecutors on Friday last week charged a driver — who allegedly killed another motorist and seriously injured two others while driving under the influence — with manslaughter instead of the usual “offenses against public safety and negligence in causing death.”

Their rationale was that “even though [the offender] knew he had drunk much more than the legal limit, [he] still drove home, directly causing the fatal accident, so he should be charged for unintentionally killing [the victim] through his actions.”

Some people might deem the charges unfair, considering that the driver who mowed down three migrant workers, killing two of them, did not face manslaughter charges during his trial in August.

However, a precedent has to be set at some point.

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