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July 28, 2017

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Anything short of zero tolerance will never curb drunk driving

The government recently revised the Criminal Code to impose heavier penalties for driving under the influence (DUI). Offenders will now face a maximum jail term of 10 years if their conduct results in death, up from the current term of seven years.

The amendment also removes the detention clause and allows an imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of NT$200,000 instead. If the drunk-driving offence results in serious physical injuries then a person may face one to seven years in prison, up from the existing six months to five years.

According to Minister without Portfolio Lo Ying-shay, who worked on the amendment, the existing penalties for DUI were too light and the deterrent effect was minimal with offenders usually being detained for only a few days. Under the new regulation, anyone measured with at least 0.55 milligrams of alcohol per liter of blood or over 0.11 percent blood alcohol content will be arrested for DUI immediately. But will the new amendments make any difference? Not really.

According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), 439 people involved in DUI accidents died within 24 hours last year, up from 419 in 2010 and 397 in 2009. In other words, there was more than one death caused by drunk driving every day in Taiwan over the last two years. That is unacceptable.

There should be zero tolerance for drunk driving. That means drivers caught with a blood alcohol percentage of higher than 0.0 should be subject to immediate license suspensions and heavy fines. Zero-tolerance laws have been subject to criticism by people who believe that the regulations unfairly punish responsible drivers. However, in both Russia and Poland zero-tolerance laws have proven to be an effective sanction. Since they have been implemented the rate of deaths and injuries in car accidents has gone down.

"Drinking or Driving" is not a hard concept to understand. If you want to drive don't drink and vice-versa, no matter what age you are. How hard is it for a couple or group of friends to designate one person to be the responsible driver for the evening? You don't have to drink to have fun. If not, there are thousands of cabs in Taiwan that can get you home safely, not to mention parents or siblings.

We strongly believe that further reducing the drunk-driving limit will save lives, and evidence shows that the recidivist rate — the number of repeat offenders — for DUI in Taiwan is as high as 30 percent, indicating that heavier punishment is not always the best deterrent to drunk driving. People of all ages do ridiculous things when drinking even one beer. If you are consuming alcohol, no matter how much or how little, you shouldn't be driving — period.

In addition to the harsher punishments proposed in the revised Criminal Code, Premier Sean Chen reportedly instructed related government agencies to devise more effective ways to prevent DUI. Chen suggested alternatives such as a device that is apparently being considered in the U.S. to shut down a vehicle's engine if the driver's alcohol level rises above a specified limit. It might take some time, however, before all cars are equipped with the new device.

In the meantime, it is imperative that Taiwan authorities enforce stricter DUI regulations that also compel drivers to take breathalyzer tests. Failure to do so should be severely punished.

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