Restaurants should be held accountable for drunk drivers

By Do Hung Dung   August 17, 2022 | 04:53 pm PT
I should not be surprised, but I am, when I see hundreds of motorbikes and cars disappear as restaurants close at night. It means many drive back home drunk.

The surprise came to mind again last week when I heard news about a drunk driver ramming his car into a gas station in Hanoi, injuring eight people.

Vietnam has an issue with drinking and driving. This is not a new conversation, but it remains relevant because the issue has never been resolved.

There have been many takes on why this has happened. It was said that fines and other punishment for drunk driving were too low to be a deterrent. Then businesses saw their business fall drastically, at least for a while, when the fines were doubled some time ago. There have been calls for driving licenses to be permanently revoked for drunk driving and that it is made a criminal offense.

Under current laws, drivers with any amount of alcohol in their system can be fined up to VND40 million ($1,708) and have their licenses revoked for up to 24 months depending on alcohol levels and types of vehicles, among other factors.

If drunk driving leads to a major accident, drivers can be fined up to VND100 million and face a potential jail sentence of up to 15 years.

I believe such punishments are already severe enough. So why does drunk driving still happen? Maybe the law alone is not enough to deter them; maybe it only works on sober people. Once the alcohol kicks in, fear simply goes out the window, maybe.

More importantly, punishments only happen after the damage has been done. A fine cannot turn back time or bring back lost lives.

My neighborhood has some big restaurants that are frequently crowded. Every afternoon, I see hundreds of motorbikes parked nearby, and rows of cars parked along the streets. But during my night runs at around 10 p.m., all these vehicles would be gone. For me, it means that customers would drink and return home in the same vehicles. And I'm willing to bet that most customers do drink alcohol, not water.

There was one time when I saw a man who was dead-drunk, unable to put one foot in front of the other, get out of a restaurant and get into a car parked outside. I asked an employee if the restaurant allows such customers to return home in a car.

"Our hands are tied. We try to dissuade them, but if they are unwilling to listen to us, there's nothing we can do. We can get verbally abused and even beaten for being considerate," he said.

Vietnamese try too hard to "save face." People do not want to stop drinking until their faces smash on the table. "I'm still sober, I'm not drunk; how can I be drunk?" is a common assertion, particularly true among men.

This bravado extends to driving home in their cars and motorbikes. They ignore the possibility that they are endangering lives by driving under the influence.

I like to drink. Drinking on its own is not a bad thing, so long as drinkers know how to be in control. Before each drinking party, I reach the location in a taxi or use a ride-hailing service. Then, I will ensure I do not get sent to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. So the drinking is fun and relaxing and I can get to work the next morning without a hassle.

Unfortunately, it seems that many people don't bother to do it. They love their personal vehicles and they love drinking. A hazardous combination.

Recently, traffic police departments proposed that restaurant owners inform officers about drunk customers attempting to drive. Many people laughed at the proposal, saying that it would be impossible, even downright stupid. Why?

Shouldn't restaurants feel sorry and responsible for traffic accidents caused by drunk driving. The truth is that their sole concern is profit. They do not see customers getting home safe and sound without endangering others as their concern. They seem to think it is not their business.

But I think: if only employees would try a bit harder to persuade their customers not to drive home drunk; if only they would take their car keys and call taxis for them; or at least, if only restaurants would work together with traffic police to prevent tragic accidents... Then our streets would be less scary.

We seem to be ignorant and apathetic. Why would people scream in protest at a proposal that restaurants report drunk customers who have come in their personal vehicles?

Consider this. No amount of police officers can stop drunk driving on their own. It is time for restaurant owners to step up and acknowledge they have a role to play.

I hope authorities will make this legal soon, introducing clear, specific regulations on managing restaurants that sell alcohol, making them accountable for drunk driving accidents.

Wouldn't safer roads and saved lives be in everybody's best interests, including restaurants that sell alcohol?

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