Tuesday, January 28 2020


Proposal to tackle drunk driving sparks debate

Update: March, 16/2015 - 10:11
Khuat Viet Hung

Khuat Viet Hung, vice chairperson of the National Traffic Safety Committee

According to Vietnamese law, specifically the Law on Road Traffic, driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited. For motorbike drivers, those with blood alcohol content of 50mg/100 millimeters of blood or higher are considered drunk drivers.

For the past five years, our committee, in co-ordination with the World Health Organisation and other international partners, has implemented many pilot programmes to monitor the level of alcohol among drivers. Inspections have also been enhanced nationwide.

Drunk driving has been getting more and more serious.

During February of this year, which was one of the busiest months due to the nine-day Tet holiday, nearly 18,000 people were fined for drunk driving. This number is critically high.

Over the holiday, there were two major traffic accidents that both involved alcohol. One was in Hung Yen Province which killed five people in a car-motorbike collision and the other was in Cao Bang Province where a drunk driver killed three people.

On the fourth day of the Lunar New Year, we paid a visit to Viet Duc Hospital, one of the busiest national hospitals for treating emergencies especially during the holiday. The hospital's officials informed us that 42 out of 60 traffic victims admitted to the hospital that day had consumed alcohol.

Drunk driving puts the lives of drivers and others on the road in danger. It's similar to a mad man with a knife who enters a crowded market and threatens to kill others.

The traffic accident statistics over the holiday break also paints a similar picture. According to official statistics from the Public Security Ministry, 317 people were killed in traffic accidents over the nine-day Lunar New Year break. This number represents a 12.4-per cent increase compared with last year's holiday.

According to our initial reports, most of traffic accidents over the Tet holiday involved motorbike drivers who committed violations such as speeding, not wearing a helmet, driving in the wrong lane or carrying three or more people. We also know that one of the reasons for people to speed or commit other violations is alcohol, especially during the holiday.

At a meeting following the Lunar New Year break, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said that during this peaceful time, it was not acceptable that 30 lives were lost on the road daily.

We want to send out a strong warning to everyone that you can't drive after drinking. This can protect the lives of both the drivers and others on the road. Confiscating vehicles from drunk drivers might be the heaviest level of punishment that has been ever proposed, but we believe this is necessary.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has assigned the Transport Ministry to receive the committee's proposal and gather more opinions on this matter and report back to the Government before March 31. We welcome more ideas on this matter.

Nguyen Sy Dung, vice chairperson of the National Assembly Office

Nguyen Sy Dung

Drunk driving presents a threat to public safety as well as the well-being of the community. The 2013 Constitution permits the confiscation of vehicles under Clause 21 of the Law on Handling Administrative Violations.

The penalty is legitimate, but when a law or a policy is made, another factor that should be taken into account is whether it is rational and if we should do it or not.

Firstly, the penalty may reduce the number of traffic accidents as well as the costs associated with them. However, it would produce a mountain of paperwork and procedures to be handled by government offices.

Confiscated vehicles would have to be recorded, stored, transferred, auctioned or destroyed, and all these steps require money, man-power and time.

Another problem may arise if a drunk driver is not the owner of the vehicle they are stopped in, and the actual owner would face severe punishment despite the fact that they have not broken any laws.

How to deal with Government vehicles would also be a headache. Would they be confiscated too? And if they are, how would Government offices function without them? The cost of processing such complicated relationships in drunk driving cases would be absurdly high.

Thirdly, the more severe the punishment, the more likely that under-the-table deals and corruption would run rampant.

This proposed penalty is no exception. This would again result in increased costs to monitor the process of handling confiscated vehicles and ensuring they were performed in a justly manner.

I whole-heartedly agree that we need to increase the severity of punishment for drunk driving, but I think it is in our best interests to look at alternatives such as making offenders perform community service.

Phan Huu Thu, lawyer and former director of the Academy for Judicial Training

Phan Huu Thu

Obviously, every law has to promote fairness because only then will people support and accept it.

For poor families, a motorbike might be the most valuable property they own. Are we going to confiscate it if a person is caught drunk driving once? This could force them back into poverty.

I support heavier punishment for drunk driving, but the question is what kind of punishment we should put forward. It is a mistake to think that traffic accidents will automatically drop if we issue heavier punishments. It requires years and years to educate the public on the issue.

This requires a proper roadmap and a framework that stipulates different levels of punishment. For example, if you are caught drunk driving several times, we can use heavier forms of punishment against you, and confiscating your vehicle is one solution.

It's not right if a person gets caught for the first time and has his vehicle confiscated. This affects millions of people across the country, so we need to prepare for it properly.

I agree that this proposal does not go against our Constitution, and other countries also apply similar measures.

However, it will not be possible to implement it immediately here. In other countries, courts can give orders to confiscate vehicle and the process can take place within 24 hours after the person is caught.

In Viet Nam, the process would take much longer and we have to also ensure that the traffic police and local authorities can implement this in a fair and transparent manner.

Tran Huu Minh, lecturer at the University of Communications and Transport, 10 years of transportation planning in the UK

Tran Huu Minh

The majority of countries around the world consider drunk driving a serious offence as it poses a threat to drivers and others.

The consequences of such irresponsible conduct could prove disastrous, resulting in loss of life and costly damages. It could be made a criminal offence and punishments such as large fines, vehicle confiscation and even jail-time could be considered.

The severity of the punishment would depend on the seriousness of the offence, calculated by the blood-alcohol level. Punishments would range from fines and points deductions, to mandatory participation of drunk driving programmes, community service, vehicle confiscation and ultimately jail-time.

We have seen the implementation of these penalties in developed countries such as the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand based on a "punishment fits the crime" principle.

Confiscation of vehicles has been used as one of the last resorts to prevent drunk driving for many years.

When it was first introduced as a form of penalty, it was only applied to repeated offences. However, the severity of the punishment has increased in recent years.

From what I've seen, the majority of countries deliver punishments based on the seriousness of the offence. Only a few choose to confiscate vehicles for a first or other minor offence.

It may be necessary to confiscate vehicles for serious offences when human lives are threatened such as repeated drunk-driving or complete loss of control. However, it should remain a last resort and only employed if all other attempts fail to prevent drunk driving.

Truong Huy Trung, 24, from Hai Ba Trung District, Ha Noi, who operates a private taxi and car rental service

I think the punishment is too severe because cars are valuable items in Viet Nam, not to mention many people depending on them to make a living, such as myself.

I worked hard for years to save up money and even took a loan out from the bank to purchase this car. I'm afraid I won't be able to let people rent it anymore because I have no control over what they may do. Even with a signed contract, the legal procedures will mean it would take at least months for me to get my car back.

Right now, it is very unclear to average citizens. I'd also like to know if the same penalty will be applied to other forms of influence such as drugs.

I would think that abusing drugs is even worse than alcohol when it comes to driving, but I haven't seen it included in this proposal. — VNS

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