Drunk driving

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 September, 1998, 12:00am

Although Hong Kong has now had drink-driving laws for nearly three years, far too many people are still being killed by a minority of irresponsible drivers.

The statistics are frightening. One in 10 night-time accidents is due to alcohol and a quarter of the drivers killed in crashes last year had been drinking beforehand. Nor were they the only ones to die. Since 1995, 38 innocent victims have been killed in accidents caused by drunk-drivers.

Hong Kong is a small place with excellent public transportation. So there can be absolutely no excuse for anyone who has been drinking to get behind the wheel, when it is so easy to take a bus or a taxi home instead. But clearly that message has not yet got through to a minority.

Although drink-related accidents have significantly decreased since the 1995 legislation, they are still higher than in most Asian countries. With hindsight, it would have been better if that law had imposed the tough blood alcohol limit originally intended. But, at the last moment, this was unwisely watered down to the milder standard that applies in Britain and many parts of the United States.

Now this mistake is to be belatedly rectified. A new law will lower the limit so that anyone who drinks just a pint of beer or 1.5 glasses of wine risks prosecution, the same level that applies in much of the rest of Asia as well as several European countries.

While this long overdue change marks a step in the right direction, it is far from enough by itself.

There is still no plan to introduce random breath tests, a measure which has proved extremely effective in other countries.

Nor is enough being done to publicise the penalties for drink-driving. Television announcements sometimes give the misleading impression that those caught can get away with no more than an endorsement on their driving licence, when the reality is that first-time offenders are usually disqualified for up to a year and some have been sent to jail.

Wider-ranging legislation and a more explicit publicity campaign are essential if the Government is serious about combatting the menace posed by drunk-drivers.