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DUI offenders to face maximum 10-year sentence

Any drink-driving offender will face a maximum jail term of 10 years if his or her offense results in death, up from the Criminal Code's current term of seven years, according to draft amendments to the code approved yesterday by the Cabinet.

The Cabinet passed the revised Criminal Code to impose heavier penalties on drink-driving offenders in a bid to effectively curb serious drink-driving practices among locals. Last year, there was at least one death caused by drink driving per day, according to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC).

The draft amendments set clear standards for alcohol levels in blood and breathalyzer tests, and increase the punishment for death and injury caused by drink driving.

Referring to standards in Germany and the U.S., the draft bill defines drink drivers as those who are found with over 0.55 milligrams of alcohol per liter of blood in breathalyzer tests or over 0.11 percent blood alcohol content.

The punishment for drink driving that leads to death has been raised to a jail term of three to 10 years, an increase on the existing one to seven years.

If the drink driving results in serious physical injuries then an offender may face one to seven years in prison, up from the existing six months to five years.

Minister without Portfolio Lo Ying-shay, who worked on the amendment, said she thinks the existing penalties for drink driving are too light and the “deterrent effect is minimal” because the offenders are usually detained for only a few days.

The revised Criminal Code removes the detention clause and instead allows an imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of NT$200,000.

Since imprisonment is defined as more than two months in jail, offenders face a minimum two-month incarceration, according to Lo.

In addition, the amendment bill also clearly stipulates that drivers must accept taking breathalyzer tests. Failure to do so may be punishable.

In addition to the harsher punishments proposed in the revised Criminal Code, Premier Sean Chen in a Cabinet meeting yesterday instructed related government agencies to devise more effective ways to prevent drink driving

Chen cited MOTC statistics which said that the number of drink-driving accidents that led to death within 24 hours was 397 in 2009, 419 in 2010, and 439 in 2011.

He added that the recidivist rate — the number of repeat offenders — was as high as 30 percent, indicating that heavier punishment is not the best deterrent to drink driving.

The premier suggested alternatives such as a device that is reportedly being considered in the U.S. to shut down a vehicle's engine if the driver's alcohol level rises above a specified limit.

He instructed the Ministry of Justice to step up communications with the Legislature to secure support for the draft amendment bill.

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