Fri, Mar 15, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Drunk driving rules need fixing

By Lin Shu-li 林書立

Fatal drunk driving incidents cause unimaginable tragedy in addition to myriad other problems. The Ministry of Justice is drafting amendments to stiffen penalties for drunk driving. It is proposing to amend Chapter 11 of the Criminal Code: Offenses Against Public Safety, so that the death penalty is available to sentencing judges as a maximum penalty for repeat drunk driving offenders whose actions caused fatalities.

For a number of years, the police have been enforcing the law with increasing zeal to deter drunk driving. In 2013 — responding to amendments that increased penalties — the National Police Agency established priority areas for drunk driving spot checks, and in doing so achieved a new record.

During a nationwide crackdown on drunk driving, in just a single day, 305 cases were registered by police, of which 53 were repeat offenders with convictions in the previous five years.

Another 18 people refused to take a Breathalyzer test, while 124 cases were transferred to prosecutors for investigation.

Obviously, it is difficult to solve the problem of fatal drunk driving incidents simply by tightening enforcement of the law or stiffening penalties.

Data from Taiwan’s penal system show that most of the prison population is made up of people convicted of drug-related or drunk-driving offenses, with about half of all inmates incarcerated on such charges. Moreover, it is by no means easy to send a convicted drunk driver to prison in Taiwan. Many suspects have been arrested on numerous occasions, a phenomenon regularly seen in news coverage of police stopping drivers.

Repeat offenders often have an intimate understanding of the legal process. To the astonishment of a journalist interviewing a serial drunk-driving offender, they recited in detail real-life examples of sentences handed out for second, third and fourth-time repeat offenders.

This shows that if prosecutors and judicial authorities are unable to quickly deal with a case and the suspects are not sent on behavior-correction and detox courses, there is a high recidivism rate for drunk-driving suspects, even while they are waiting for a verdict on a previous case.

Past governments have explored implementing harsher punishments for drunk driving, including methods similar to those used in Japan, where not only the driver is liable for punishment, but also the person who provided the vehicle, the provider of the alcohol consumed by the driver and even passengers in the vehicle.

In other words, anyone who could have prevented the driver from getting behind the wheel while under the influence also pays a fine if convicted.

However, due to Taiwan’s societal and cultural conditions, the Japanese model never made it into law.

If Japan’s collateral punishment model is a step too far, perhaps Taiwan should explore the US model. In the US, the law also takes into account the harm caused by drunk driving, which is viewed as more damaging than even drug abuse.

In the US, drunk driving is classified as an addiction crime, which means that in addition to a dedicated, integrated alcohol and drug-impaired driving department established by the US Department of Transportation at the federal level, the US Department of Justice has also set up courts specifically to try cases of alcohol and drug-impaired driving, which are designed to work in tandem with correction and detox programs.

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