Minister supports confiscation of cars in drunk driving cases

According to government statistics, 100 people died and 5,583 were injured in 2018 in traffic accidents triggered by drunk drivers. The number of deaths was down slightly from 102 in 2016, while the number of injured fell by 1,410. (NOWnews)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The idea of confiscating vehicles used by drunk drivers in traffic accidents has received the support of Taiwan’s transportation minister, but he said supporting measures are needed to make sure the measure is applied consistently.

Speaking at a hearing of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Feb. 25, Transportation Minister Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) also said he agreed that those causing another person’s death while driving under the influence (DUI) should be charged with voluntary manslaughter.

He said his ministry will work with the Ministry of Justice to raise the penalties for drunk driving.

Lin was responding to an appeal by ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) to confiscate vehicles as a remedy for the ongoing spate of DUI offenses in Taiwan that continue to take a heavy toll on human life.

Citing data from foreign countries, Yeh said at the hearing that DUI offenders fear having to forfeit their vehicle more than any other penalty, and she urged the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) to discuss the idea with other agencies and report their conclusions within three months.

She also noted that many DUI cases happen in more remote parts of Taiwan where there is a lack of public transportation or taxis, leading people to drive while drunk, and asked the MOTC to also propose solutions to those shortcomings within three months.

The issue of cracking down on drunk driving was listed as a top priority by the Legislative Yuan in the wake of the many deaths caused by DUI offenses around Taiwan.

According to government statistics, 100 people died and 5,583 were injured in 2018 in traffic accidents triggered by drunk drivers. The number of deaths was down slightly from 102 in 2016, while the number of injured fell by 1,410.

But repeat DUI offenders accounted for about one-fifth (20.56 percent) of all DUI offenders from 2014 to 2018, and nearly two in five (38.10 percent) of the repeat offenders repeated the crime at least twice during that period, leading lawmakers to hold Monday’s hearing on the issue.

At a hearing of the Legislature’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, meanwhile, DPP lawmaker Chou Chun-mi (周春米) charged that sentences handed down by judges for DUI offenses were often lighter than the minimum penalties stipulated by existing laws.

Under the Criminal Code, which was amended in June 2013, those who cause the death of others while driving drunk are subject to a prison sentence of between three and 10 years.

From June 11, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2018, however, the average penalty in fatal drunk driving cases was just over two and a half years (30.42 months) in prison, Chou said, citing government data.

“As high as 63.7 percent of such cases ended with a lower penalty than the minimum statutory punishment,” the lawmaker said. “Judges’ rulings have not been consistent with the law.” Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Lu Tai-lang (呂太郎) responded that the issue will be brought up with judges through various channels.

Lu said judges were sometimes reluctant to impose heavy penalties that offenders might not be willing to pay.

The Judicial Yuan is the nation’s highest judicial organ and oversees courts and administrative courts at all levels.

By Chen Wei-ting, Wang Yang-yu and Elizabeth Hsu