The China Post news staff
Many families have been broken and loved ones killed or maimed in tragic road accidents in Taiwan, and the culprits are often motorists who hit the bottle, hit the road and hit something else. Last year, 419 people were killed and close to 200 were seriously injured in road accidents caused by drivers operating vehicles while under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and other substances. It was the cause of up to 30 percent of fatal car crashes in northern Taiwan. In the first nine months of 2012, DUI was blamed for 32 percent of the fatal road accidents in the northeastern county of Yilan. The “best-remembered” case last year involved a female firefighter. The then-27-year-old Lai Wen-li was hit by a drunk driver during a traffic callout when she was trying to help a person injured in an earlier crash. Lai had to have her leg amputated. In recognition of her courage and dedication to her job as a lifesaver, the Legislature named an amendment to the criminal code after her, calling it the “Lai Wen-li Clause.” The amendment raises the penalty for drivers under the influence of drugs, anesthetics, alcohol or similar substances to two years of imprisonment, detention, or a fine of NT$200,000 (US$6,625). In a stern statement before the passage of the amendment, Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) said he would direct the country’s prosecutors to seek the maximum penalties for offenders in order to deter drunk driving. “Don’t drink if you want to drive,” he warned. The public’s memory is short. And many of those who drink simply would not need Tseng’s admonition. National Police Agency statistics show that in the first three months of 2012, a total of 88,034 drunk drivers were caught.
It appears that severe punishments, or simply their threat, are not working. DUI is here to stay. The government may try other methods, such as raising the cost of alcohol retail licenses, tripling the tax on both locally brewed and imported spirits, wines, and even beers, or deploying more road blocks manned by police officers equipped with breathalyzer kits. But one doubts these measures would work beyond the immediate aftermath of another appalling DUI accident.
It appears that the problem has so far resisted solutions because a cultural aspect to it has been overlooked. Drinking, especially the drinking of hard alcohol, is deeply ingrained and even encouraged in the Chinese culture.