Tougher penalties for drivers who drink
Updated: 2011-05-09 07:12
By Hu Yongqi, Duan Yan and Wang Yan (China Daily)
In 2009, 30-year-old sales executive Sun Weiming, an unlicensed hit-and-run driver in Chengdu, was sentenced to death for endangering public safety after he had killed four people in their 50s and injured one in a drunken-driving accident in 2008.
A woman breathes into a device that measures blood alcohol level. A driver is considered drunk with a reading of 20 mg. At 80 mg, the traffic safety violation becomes a criminal case. Provided to China Daily
Sun was known as China's first drunken driver to be charged with endangering public safety and to be sentenced to death. His sentence was later reduced to life in prison.
Under the China Road Transportation Safety Law at the time, a drunken driver who killed or injured others faced a maximum of seven years in prison for killing by negligence.
On Feb 10 last year, the Supreme People's Court issued a statement on drunken driving punishments. It said the charge of endangering public safety applies in cases involving death or serious injury because drunken drivers are aware that what they are doing is against the law and that it will endanger public safety.
In another notorious case, Li Qiming, 23, killed a college student in a drunken-driving hit-and-run on Oct 16 in North China's Hebei province. Li was sentenced to six years in jail after he pleaded guilty in January to drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter.
Zhou Guangquan, a law professor at Tsinghua University and a member of the National People's Congress Law Committee, said about 70,000 drunken driving cases are brought to the courts every year.
Zhou said workloads in criminal courts will increase now that drunken driving is no longer a traffic safety violation but can be a criminal offense. He suggested special courts be set up to accelerate the procedures of such cases.
Zhang Zhuting, a member of a legal consulting committee under the Ministry of Transport, sees other problems. For example, he said, drunken driving is handled by traffic police, but when it becomes a criminal offense it should be transferred to criminal police.
The Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security still have work to do regarding implementation of the new laws, Zhang said.
The penalties for a drunken driving conviction are not restricted to court judgments.
With a criminal offense on their records, people cannot apply for civil service jobs.
And those already holding government posts will lose their jobs. The Regulation on the Punishment of Civil Servants of Administrative Organs of 2007 said that civil servants who are given criminal punishment will be expelled from work.
Lawyers who are caught driving drunk will lose their licenses to practice law. Employers can fire their employees who are given a criminal penalty.
Taxi drivers said they have not noticed a difference in patronage since the harsher penalties took effect, but more people are turning to driving services when they know they'll be drinking. He Jin, general manager of Ben'ao Anda Automobile Driving Service Co, reported a 10 percent increase in business.
As China's first driving service provider, founded in 2003, the company averaged 110 orders a day before May 1. Now they run to about 120 a day. He estimated that throughout Beijing, 300 to 400 people call for a driving service after drinking at night.
"For businessmen, dinners and parties can't be avoided. Currently, ganbei culture (drinking alcohol during dinners) is still dominant and so our service still remains popular for those who get drunk," He said.
Meanwhile, sales of alcohol seem to be down and soft drinks up at restaurants. Ten restaurants on Huixin Dongjie in Beijing's Chaoyang district reported a decrease of more than 10 percent in retailing white spirit and beer.
Du Zhengxing, 29, said he makes a choice: Drink or drive. "Therefore, we order juice instead of alcohol when I drive."
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