Traffic safety official rejects public outcry, says drunk driving penalties still weak

By Doan Loan   January 6, 2020 | 11:53 pm PT
Traffic safety official rejects public outcry, says drunk driving penalties still weak
Police in Nghe An Province, central Vietnam, seize a car from a drunk driver, January 3, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/H.B.
The new penalties for drunk driving are still less severe than in many other countries and provide inadequate deterrence, a traffic official has said.

The higher fines that came into effect on January 1 could thus only partially solve the problem, Khuat Viet Hung, deputy chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, the government agency overseeing traffic safety, said.

Now cyclists and electric motorbike riders face fines of VND400,000-600,000 ($17-26) while motorcyclists and car drivers could be fined VND6-8 million and VND30-40 million, double the old levels, and everyone could lose their licenses for 22-24 months.

In comparison, Japan slaps fines of $5,000-10,000 and Singapore, $4,000.

Violators also face jail terms of three to six months in the U.K. and Singapore and three years in Japan and South Korea, lose their driving licenses, have to do community service, and take the test again to get their license back.

If caught again, the punishment escalates.

Hung told VnExpress in an exclusive interview last week amid a public backlash against the new penalties for "being too harsh" that it is evident that Vietnam still has much lower penalties than many other countries.

Besides, even the higher fines would not entirely resolve the drunk driving problem, he warned.

Vietnam currently has no data on violations.

"There should be a national database for traffic violations to see how drivers comply with laws and escalating penalties for repeat offenders," Hung said.

He also called for increasing the sanctions against drunk driving by including community service and increasing the civil liability.

"Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious social problem that has caused huge loss of human life and property."

The public could never forget the accident in early 2018 when a drunk container truck driver slammed from behind into 20 motorbikes at a traffic light in the southern Long An Province, killing four and injuring 16, the Mercedes car whose drunk driver crashed into a motorbike and killed two women in May last year in Hanoi or the drunk man who crashed his motorbike into a barrier, killing his wife and two young children in September last year, he said.

Asked about apprehensions that the higher fines would engender bribery, he said: "We should not fear one wrong behavior to condone another wrong behavior that is even more serious: drunk driving. And if traffic police officers indulge in corruption, we should find a solution for that, such as increasing oversight, not just by higher authorities but also the public and the media."

Other countries too have their worries when adopting new traffic regulations like the fear they might not have enough personnel to implement the law or prisons to incarcerate offenders, but once the law takes effect, violations reduce because the strict sanctions act as a deterrent, he said.

"The law does not ban people from drinking alcohol, only not to do so before driving."

He suggested solutions which he said he himself adopts to drink and go home safely without breaking the law.

A company that throws an event or party where its employees drink could collect money from them to send them home by taxi, he said.

People could drink close to home and walk back or travel by public bus, ask for a ride from a sober friend or family member or call a cab, he said.

He admitted authorities have a responsibility to make public transport easier to access, not just in big cities but everywhere in the country.

"We are living in a state where public transport services remain limited and most people have to rely on private vehicles."

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