Washing away drunk driving involves more than just police
The China Post news staffPresident Ma Ying-jeou is acting tough on drunk driving. He has proposed having drivers who fail breathalyzer tests be immediately referred to prosecutors and be placed in 24-hour detention.
January 29, 2013, 12:38 am TWN
Uncharacteristically for the president, who has mostly refrained from interfering in judicial and enforcement matters, Ma said if need be he would defend his position at the Constitutional Court. Ma's decision to crack down on DUIs is not surprising. He has long been known to have a distinct (and almost unworldly) distaste of amoral behaviors. In a real-politick sense, with his poll numbers now in the nadir, there is no better campaign to wage for the president than taking on the universally hated crime of drunk driving
Even disregarding its possible constitutional problems, Ma's heavy-handed “go-to-jail card” approach will present a daunting challenge to the police and prosecutors. In Seoul, where it is common for drunken people (not necessarily drivers) to be taken down to the station, the police are often too overburdened to handle these cases.
“Almost every night in almost every police station lockup in Seoul, drunken men — and sometimes women — can be found abusing officers verbally and even physically,” the New York Times reported in July, 2012. A local police superintendent told the newspaper that these drunken people consider police stations to be places to “let off stream” and officers “pushovers.”Similar cases of alcohol-fueled violence could very possibly happen in Taiwan's police stations. Even disregarding this risk, the president's proposal is at best only half the equation in solving the pervasive DUI problem in Taiwan.
At the root of drunk driving in Taiwan is the East Asian culture that encourages binge drinking as a way of bonding and as an expression of masculinity. In Taiwan, as in many of its neighbors, getting drunk is often regarded as the raison d'etre of social drinking. Unwritten rules such as the “three-cup penalty” for people who are late and the rule, especially common in business gatherings, that requires respectable guests to “bottom up” during every toast are testaments of such a culture.
Of course, a culture of binge drinking does not automatically lead to DUIs. The government has been promoting the use of public transport and designated drivers as a way to prevent drunk driving. Indeed these campaigns have been successful to some extent. Walk into a Taipei metro train in the late hours on weekends and you will probably find it smells like a nightclub. The problem, however, remains for regions with less convenient public transportation. The over-concentration of taxis in Taipei and New Taipei means that even cabs are sometimes hard to find outside the Greater Taipei area.