October, 08 2012 09:40:00

Stiffer fines set to deter drink-driving

Viet Nam has showed its strong commitment to tackle drink driving – the country's top traffic safety problem – by introducing stiffer fines. Reporters Quynh Anh and Minh Thi spoke to experts on the expected impacts of the new law.

Nguyen Hoang Hiep, National Safety Traffic Committee vice chairman


Nguyen Hoang Hiep
In Viet Nam, drinking alcohol is a well-established cultural norm. This, combined with the majority of the population using motorbikes, makes drink-driving a significant safety problem. Efforts at tackling this problem have not succeeded because legal sanctions failed to produce a deterrent, while traffic police faced staffing and equipment shortages.

Under the new law, fines for drink-driving have increased significantly but this may not work on affluent road users. For a greater deterrence, I think we should add a jail sentence. Fines alone are not enough to change behaviour, they have to be accompanied by measures to bring about compliance. At the National Safety Traffic Committee, we have worked with alcohol producers and importers to print labels urging against drink-driving.

What message we send is also a tricky point. Rather than slogans that say the likes of "Drinking while driving is completely prohibited" we should say "Drink in a responsible and planned way" which would be more relevant.

Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Tran Son, Ministry of Public Security's Road and Railway Traffic Police Department


Tran Son
The new Decree 71 has increased the range of fines for some 40 traffic safety offences. Previous penalties of offences that are the leading cause of traffic accidents, namely drink-driving and speed, were not deterrent enough. Under the new law, these will incur a fine up to VND15 million. I believe it is high enough to deter people from drink driving, given the average income of Vietnamese. There are concerns that this may not work for affluent road users but the number of such people who'd rather pay a high fine than refrain from drinking alcohol before driving would be very small. Not to mention that drunk drivers will also have their driving licences revoked for 60 days. This will be very inconvenient.

I have to say that never before have we introduced such a tough set of measures on drink-driving. People may ask why we don't apply jail sentences as practised in developed countries, but I think this measure is not suitable because of the socio-economic conditions.

Regarding lax enforcement, such as in the case where violators and traffic police negotiate fines, I have to make it clear that supervision lies as much with the public. Traffic police are highly visible and in cases where road users find that traffic police don't follow legal procedures, they can report their concerns to my agency's hot line at 069 42608. Unethical police will be strictly punished. My agency also plans to inspect the operations of our own task forces to discover any wrongdoing.

As our nation has not established voluntary compliance with traffic rules, we have to work on raising awareness via continuous education campaigns with a hope that a remarkable change in traffic behaviour will come within 10-15 years.

Jonathon Passmore, technical officer in road safety and injury prevention of the World Health Organisation's country office in Viet Nam

Alcohol plays an important role in Vietnamese socialisation. What we disagree with is that drink-driving is associated with culture. There is no reason for you to drive after drinking. After only a few drinks, your crash risk doubles. The practice of drinking and driving is dangerous. It not only injures the drinker, it can also affect other road users and pedestrians. The Government has recognised the importance of the problem. The fine up to VND15 million ($750) highlights the seriousness with which the Government treats the offence.

Enforcement is absolutely crucial but it takes time. My own country, Australia, has been working on it for around 30-40 years. In my State, Victoria, we have intensive enforcement for drink-driving. But when the enforcement decreased, even slightly, we'd see the number of drivers killed from alcohol-related crashes increase. So there's a very close relationship between the level of enforcement and the incidence of alcohol-related crashes.

Effective enforcement will require a high level of implementation, vision and action on behalf of police. Our objective is to change behaviour in road users so that they think: "No, I've been drinking, I won't ride because I know the police will catch me." We want people to believe it's not worth drinking and driving because of the high fine. We want them to think about alternative modes of transport, so if they drink, they can take a taxi, ask someone to pick them up, take a bus or walk.

The number of police available to enforce the policy is quite low, which poses a challenge. And to enforce drink-driving laws, you need breathalysers. That is the police's evidence for enforcement. This year, the World Health Organisation gave breathalysers to Vinh Phuc, Bac Ninh and Quang Ninh provinces. So far we have provided about 150 breathalysers to police in various provinces.

But at the same time, the central police of Viet Nam have also provided breathalysers to all provinces to implement the drink-driving law. But it does require a further scale-up so the time police can spend dealing with drink-driving can increase.

Dr Etienne Krug, director of the World Health Organisation's department of violence and injury prevention


Dr Etienne Krug
People in Viet Nam have said we drink and ride our motorbikes because we go out with friends, have some drinks and then have to get home. That was the same in many countries, in the USA, China, Sweden, and France, to name a few. But it has changed with law enforcement and education at school and in families. Difficult as it might be, it is possible to change a culture. People in these countries are drink-driving much less than before. It is important to enforce the law so that people can be tested – random breath testing, as we call it – which means you can be stopped at any time to check if you are drunk or not. — VNS

*Two WHO experts spoke to Viet Nam News at the sideline of the Safety 2012 World Conference held in Wellington, New Zealand last week.

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