Most people would agree that existing drunk driving laws in Minnesota are pretty tough as it is. Those found to be impaired behind the wheel face serious fines, the pain of a criminal record, loss of driving privileges and even jail time. The whole ordeal can end up costing thousands of dollars to resolve and will then be on your record for years to come. As tough as these penalties are, they pale in comparison to existing laws in Japan and ones that have recently been proposed in Taiwan.
According to the Taipei Times, a group of legislators are disappointed that recently implemented drunk driving penalties have not done enough to bring down high rates of impaired driving. Starting a few months ago, Taiwan lowered the official legal limit to 0.05 percent BAC and authorized steep fines and even lengthy prison terms in fatal cases. As a result, several legislators have proposed a revision to their traffic laws which would allow for the punishment of those riding in the same car as a drunk driver.
The legislator championing the proposal, Tsai Cheng-yuan, says that the problem with drunk driving punishments are that they only penalize drivers after they have been caught and do nothing to prevent the impaired driving from occurring in the first place. Tsai believes the best way to prevent drunk driving is to greatly increase the pain of those regulations meant to deter impaired driving. One way is to exert legal pressure on passengers who will now feel an obligation to prevent friends from driving drunk if it means they could now get into trouble with the law.
Taiwan has said it is looking to Japan as an example of how punishing passengers can work to reduce incidents of drunk driving. In Japan, passengers who choose to ride with a drunk driver can be fined up to $5,000 and face up to three years behind bars for not preventing the crime from taking place. The toughened penalties apply to anyone who provides alcohol to a driver who goes on to be arrested, with that person also facing fines and jail time. The law says additional penalties can even be imposed on those who loan their vehicle to someone who turns out to be drunk.
Japanese legislators rolled out the new law, along with a 0.03 percent BAC legal limit, back in 2007. The laws also said that even first time drunk drivers could face five years in prison if convicted. After passing the law, officials say drunk-driving incidents declined a startling 41 percent by the end of the first year.
There’s no doubt the plan worked to reduce drunk driving, but the question is whether the ends justify the incredibly punitive means. Punishing passengers for someone else’s choices seems fundamentally wrong, especially in cases where impairment is not so easily detected. Given the legal limit in Japan of only 0.03 percent, it seems impractical to have to wrestle the keys away from a friend who has only consumed one beer. Thankfully, it is doubtful lawmakers in Minnesota will ever try passing such a stringent set of laws here.
Source: “Prosecute passengers of drunk drivers: lawmaker,” by Shih Hsiu-chuan, published at TaipeiTimes.com.