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EDITORIAL: Drunk Driving Can’t Be Ignored

A recent wave of driving incidents under the influence (DUI) has caught the attention of lawmakers and the Department of Transport and Communications. One such incident occurred in Kaohsiung last Sunday, when a man named Huang (黃), 38, who had passed the legal blood alcohol limit five times, allegedly hit a family of four as he they were crossing a street. The incident resulted in the death of a woman and seriously injured her husband and two daughters. A Central News Agency (CNA) report said on Tuesday the driver had already been convicted of impaired driving in 2006 and 2009.

Comedian Sung Shao-ching (宋少卿) was arrested Tuesday for driving with a blood alcohol level four times the legal limit, when he allegedly hit a taxi early in the morning. A separate CNA report said Sung also had previous DUIs.

These are not isolated incidents. After Huang’s arrest, Kaohsiung police launched an eight-day checkpoint campaign on Monday and arrested 43 people driving under the influence on the first day. This staggering number of drunk driving – especially on a Monday – indicates a culture of acceptance of drunk driving, which has deadly implications for pedestrians and drivers.

An increase in the concentration of alcohol in the blood is associated with a decrease in reaction time, and even a concentration as low as 0.08 percent (80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood) – the legal limit for United States – results in an average reduction of 120 milliseconds in reaction time, according to a report released by the University of Michigan. By exacerbating the situation, the more a person drinks, the less able they are to perceive their level of intoxication and the less their decision making becomes inhibited. After just a few drinks, a person may believe that they can drink more while driving safely.

In Canada and the United States, organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving are using advertising campaigns and school visits to promote the habit of handing over car keys and planning transportation before drinking alcohol. . Such an approach should also be adopted in Taiwan, in addition to stricter sanctions and enforcement.

Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) lawmaker Ann Kao (高 虹 安) said yesterday that the ignition interlock devices should include a facial recognition function and be connected to a dash cam, so that drunk drivers cannot not ask other people to take a breathalyzer test for them. Car rental companies could also install locking devices, she said.

TPP lawmaker Tsai Pi-ru (蔡 壁 如) said those convicted of impaired driving should be required to participate in intervention programs to prevent reoffending. Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that 389 of the 472 people convicted of impaired driving who participated in a Taipei hospital intervention program in 2015 did not have not relapsed.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications announced yesterday that it will propose an amendment to the Road Traffic Management and Sanctions Act (道路 交通 管理 處罰 條例) that would hold passengers accountable when drivers are found guilty of driving in drunk. It would also seek the confiscation of vehicles following accidents resulting in death or injury, and extend the period during which repeat offenders are considered repeat offenders – which incurs heavier penalties, he said.

Tougher penalties might deter some of those who would drive drunk, but intervention programs are needed to stop drug addicts. Confiscation of the vehicle and revocation of the license should also be part of the normal procedure in impaired driving convictions.

The government also needs to improve law enforcement. Checkpoints in response to tragic accidents or while on vacation are inadequate. Better enforcement of general traffic rules and on-site blood alcohol testing whenever officers smell alcohol should be the norm.

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