May 24, 2011

Chinese Drink Driving campaign hits a low

Chinese campaign to cut drink-driving appears to be entering the slow lane, weeks after it began with a tough new law and a high-profile conviction. Authorities hoped that making drink-driving a crime would help to cut one of the highest road death tolls in the world and tackle the effects of a hard-drinking culture. Previously motorists could be jailed only if they had caused a serious accident, with most offenders facing civil or administrative penalties.

After the law was introduced on 1 May police checks were stepped up and quickly netted a TV celebrity, leading to the sentencing of China’s Got Talent judge Gao Xiaosong to six months in jail. The law says drink-drivers should be fined and jailed for one to six months and should lose their right to drive for five years. Those who cause a serious accident may lose the right to drive permanently. But the Supreme People’s Court has now urged lower courts to use their discretion, the English language state newspaper China Daily reported, saying it did so because the practice is so common in China.The court cited an article in the criminal law saying: “Offences that cause very little harm to society shall not be accounted for as crimes.”

Lawyer Li Gang of the Chengdu Faxian law firm said the law had already cut drink-driving rates and he was totally opposed to watering it down. “It is not too harsh; it is to protect people’s rights to life, health and property. Drunk-driving is very dangerous; no matter whether it has a result, it should be forbidden as long as the danger exists,” he said.

According to state media, 65,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2010, although experts have suggested the real figure is much higher. Police caught more than half a million drunk drivers last year, a 68% increase on 2009, according to the Ministry of Public Security, probably reflecting growing car ownership and more stringent checks rather than a particularly sharp increase in driving while drunk.

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