Latest judicial guideline is not a letup on drunken driving

(China Daily) Updated : 2017-05-18

Latest judicial guideline is not a letup on drunken driving
[Cai Meng/China Daily]

The Supreme People's Court issued a pilot guideline on the penalties for drunken driving recently, which stipulates that offenses that cause very little harm to society should not be considered crimes, and thus be exempt from the penalties set out for dangerous driving in the Criminal Law.

It is reasonable to argue that all cases of drunken driving should not be treated the same, as the circumstances differ. That is why the new guideline grants judges the discretion to decide whether someone caught driving under the influence of alcohol should be held criminally responsible, taking into account how drunk the driver was, how recklessly he or she was driving and the extent of any damage they may have done.

However, the high court's decision has sparked concern among many, as they interpret it as a softening of the harsh stance taken by the authorities since 2011, when drunken driving was made a crime under the amended Criminal Law and Road Traffic Safety Law.

The rising number of people with a driver's license, combined with a culture that still sees drinking as the lubricant for human relations, fuels fears that a relaxing of that tougher line will reverse the progress that has been made in reducing the number of accidents caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol.

The reduced tolerance for such behavior was widely welcomed by many among the public, who saw it as the only effective way to check some drivers' reckless behavior and make roads safer.

And thanks to the stepped-up clampdown, cases involving drunken driving reportedly dropped 34 percent from 2011 to 2016, and more and more drivers have embraced the maxim "don't drink and drive".

The guideline does not mean a more relaxed attitude toward drunken driving-those caught driving under the influence will still receive penalties-but rather a more targeted approach aimed at curbing dangerous driving as a result of alcohol consumption.

For despite the progress that has been made, China is still the country with the highest number of road traffic deaths in the world. It is not just drunken driving that is responsible for this unwelcome distinction, but also drivers' disregard for the traffic rules.

With a short history of private car ownership, many Chinese are yet to cultivate safe driving habits, a task that is impossible to accomplish without strict implementation of the traffic rules. This calls for an all out effort to enhance enforcement of all the road safety rules.