Criminal prosecution proposed for drivers with high alcohol levels

By Anh Duy   January 30, 2024 | 01:17 am PT
A senior traffic safety official has said criminal prosecution is necessary for those driving under the influence of high alcohol levels, even when they have not caused any accidents.

Tran Huu Minh, Chief of the Office of the National Traffic Safety Committee, said the current administrative penalties for DUI violations are relatively high and have a good deterrent effect.

However, current law stipulates that after reaching the level three of DUI violations, which means drivers have over 0.4 mg/liter in their breath or over 80 mg/100 ml in their blood, they will receive the same penalty, regardless of how high the alcohol amount in the bodies.

"For example, whether a person drinks 5 or 30 glass beers, they will be fined the same. This does not entirely align with the basic principle in administrative punishment, which is to impose fines proportionate to the violation," Minh told a workshop discussing the harm of alcohol to road users organized by the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Health on Monday in Hanoi.

Minh suggests that violations exceeding level 3 should be differentiated into higher penalties.

Drivers who commit particularly serious alcohol violations leading to complete loss of control and potential catastrophic traffic accidents should be criminally prosecuted.

"This is the case mentioned in Clause 4, Article 260 of the Penal Code, and can be criminally prosecuted even if no consequences have occurred," he said.

According to this clause, traffic violations that could lead to consequences such as causing three or more deaths, or property damage of VND1.5 billion (US$61,300), can result in up to one year in prison.

To have sufficient grounds for criminal prosecution, specialized agencies, especially the health sector, need to issue regulations defining what level of blood alcohol concentration is considered particularly severe, causing the driver to lose complete control and be processed under the clause.

Consequently, the Supreme People's Court Council could issue guidelines for authorities to implement the law's provisions, he said.

A police officer checks the alcohol level in the breath of a driver in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

A police officer checks a driver's alcohol level with a breathalyzer in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

Agreeing with the proposal, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vu Anh Tuan, Director of the Vietnam-Germany Transport Research Center, said developed countries like Europe and Japan have criminal penalties for alcohol-impaired drivers endangering traffic safety.

"Initially, they face administrative fines, but if the violation escalates, criminal prosecution, including bigger fines and imprisonment, is imposed," he said.

He added that the risk factor of drinking alcohol while driving is the "number one danger" requiring increasingly stringent penalty measures.

"Drivers can easily spend tens of millions of dong to pay fines if violated, but facing jail time, they will be deterred," Tuan said.

Dr. Le Thu Huyen from the University of Transport believes that most countries consider driving under the influence as a crime, with severe cases potentially facing criminal charges even if no consequences have occurred. Drivers also have their violation records stored and face cumulative penalties for repeated offenses.

Currently, the highest penalty for car drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding 80 mg per 100 ml of blood or 0.4 mg/liter in breath is VND30-40 million, with a license suspension of 22-24 months.

Huyen proposes differentiating these levels into 80-160 mg/100 ml and 160-240 mg/100 ml to impose heavier fines based on the degree of violations.

If a driver's blood alcohol concentration exceeds 240 mg/100 ml, they could face imprisonment, she said.

In November 2023, regulations punishing drunk drivers sparked debate in the National Assembly during discussions on the drafted Road Traffic Safety Law.

Many delegates argued that the current absolute ban on blood alcohol levels for drivers is inappropriate and suggested establishing limits to determine fines.

During the review of the draft law, the NA’s Defense and Security Committee said some of its members suggested reconsidering the absolute ban on blood alcohol levels while driving as "too strict and not really in line with the culture, customs, and practices of a portion of the Vietnamese people."

These members recommended referring to international experiences and setting appropriate blood alcohol levels for each type of vehicle, ensuring consistency with the Penal Code's regulations.

The draft law is expected to be submitted to the NA for approval later this year.

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