Chinese lawmakers divided on whether to criminalize drunk driving

08:02, December 22, 2010      

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Chinese lawmakers on Tuesday continued discussing a draft amendment to the country's Criminal Law which, if passed, could criminalize the act of "drunk driving".

The draft amendment, which was tabled during a bimonthly session of China's top legislature on Monday for the second reading, stipulates that the act of car racing, which has caused "serious consequences", or drunk driving, are violations of the Criminal Law and convicted car racers or drunk drivers would be detained and fined.

Currently, those suspected of drunk driving or street racing, if no serious consequences such as road accidents are caused, are not charged with criminal offences and are only subject to administrative or civil penalties.

According to the road traffic safety law, drunk drivers will face up to 15 days in detention and their driving licenses will be suspended from one to six months. Meanwhile, drivers will have to pay a fine ranging from 200 yuan (30 U.S. dollars) to 2,000 yuan.

On the other hand, when drunk driving has become vital or has caused "serious consequences", drivers are ruled to be committing traffic crimes or crimes against public security and receive jail terms ranging from no more than three years detention or more than seven years imprisonment.

The latest amendment stipulates that drunk driving, even if it has caused no road accidents or other serious consequences, would constitute a criminal offence.

According to China's current standard, drunk drivers refer to those having 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood.

Xia Ji'en, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, hails the proposal to criminalize the act of drunk driving as "progress" that would better protect people's safety and reduce the frequency of drunk driving.

Xia proposed imposing harsher penalties for drunk drivers who caused road accidents.

Member Lang Sheng said administrative detention for drunk drivers is having little effect on quelling the practice of drunk driving, and criminalizing the act of drunk driving would work more effectively.

However, NPC Standing Committee member Fang Xin proposed to fully consider the consequences of criminalizing drunk driving.

A civil servant could no longer keep his post if he commits a crime, even if its drunk driving and no one was hurt, according to Fang.

Member Li Lianning suggested authorities mete out punishment for drunk drivers based upon the severity of their cases and take a cautious approach in legislation.

In most cases, a draft law will be read two or three times before being passed.

China's fast economic development has enabled a growing number of Chinese to realize their middle class dream of owning a car.

China' s auto sales jumped past the United States to reach record levels in 2009. China had 199 million motor vehicles on its roads as of September, including 85 million cars, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

However, in a country where drinking liquor is an important part of the dining ritual, the pleasures of drinking alcohol have made drunk driving sometimes an unavoidable practice.

In 2009, Chinese police apprehended 313,000 drunk drivers.

Earlier this month, Gu Qingyang, a post office official in Luoning County of central China' s Henan Province, was arrested after he, under the influence of alcohol, drove his car into five teenagers before trying to escape.

More fatal car accidents in big cities such as Chengdu, Nanjing and Hangzhou have triggered heated public complaints and calls for stricter penalties for drunk driving.

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