Higher drunk driving fines working, hospitals say

By Thu Hien   January 8, 2020 | 10:14 pm PT
Higher drunk driving fines working, hospitals say
Doctor Vu Xuan Hung of Hanoi's Thanh Nhan Hospital checks on a patient, January 8, 2020. Photo by VnExpress.
Hospitals are reporting fewer traffic accident admissions, particularly those related to drunk driving, just a week after heavier punishments for the offense took effect.

At Hanoi's Thanh Nhan Hospital, the number of patients admitted for injuries from traffic accidents has reduced by a half in the past week, said Vu Xuan Hung, head of its orthopaedic department. While the hospital's emergency ward usually receives around 100-130 patients a day, that number has dropped to around 60-70 in the last week, he added.

"Particularly, there has been no patient admitted after traffic accidents caused by beer and other alcohol consumption," Hung said. He believes the drop in patients is the result of the new law that has introduced heavier punishments for drunk driving starting this year.

The Law on Preventing Alcohol's Harmful Effects, which took effect January 1, fines cyclists and electric bycicle riders VND400,000-600,000 ($17-26) for drunk driving.

Motorcyclists and car drivers can be fined VND6-8 million and VND30-40 million, double the old levels, and everyone caught driving a vehicle under the influence could have their driving license suspended for 22-24 months.

The drop in patients was also observed in other major hospitals and medical facilities.

At the Viet Duc Friendship Hospital in Hanoi, 305 traffic accident victims were admitted from January 1-6, 46 of whom had consumed alcohol, a 4 percent reduction over the same period last year, said Do Manh Hung, deputy head of its general planning department.

The capital city’s 115 Emergency Center usually receives around 90 cases per day, of which 20 percent are due to drunk driving. But the number of such cases has dropped to 8 percent from January 1 to 6, it said.

The reduction has not only been observed among patients involved in traffic accidents, but also those who suffer from alcohol poisoning.

The Thanh Nhan Hospital, which usually receives several cases of acute alcohol poisoning as people drink more during the Lunar New Year Festival season, has seen no case as of late.

"The new law has proved effective and helped reduce the workload for our staff," said Le Van Dan, deputy head of Thanh Nhan’s intensive care department.

In the first six days after the new law took effect, around 2,700 people were penalized, according to police figures.

The new law, which has partly contributed to a recent drop in customers at restaurants and bars that sell alcoholic drinks, has received both support and criticism from the public. Some have said the new fines are too high, while others have called for even heavier punishments to deter drunk driving.

Traffic safety officials have argued that the new fines are still less severe than many other countries and are yet to show adequate deterrence impact.

Alcohol, especially beer, is widely consumed in Vietnam. Data collected by the Ministry of Health shows Vietnamese citizens consumed 305 million liters of liquor and 4.1 billion liters of beer in 2017, making it the biggest alcohol consumer in Southeast Asia and third biggest in Asia after Japan and China.

The country spends an average $3.4 billion on alcohol each year, or 3 percent of the government’s budget revenue, according to official data. The figure translates to $300 per person while spending on related health issues averages $113 per person, according to the Ministry of Health.

40 percent of traffic accidents in Vietnam are linked to excessive drinking, according to the WHO, which said it was an alarming rate for a country where road crashes kill a person every hour, on average.

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