Drink-driving creates nightmarish scenario

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 August, 2009, 12:00am

The condition of roads on the mainland and lack of enforcement of rules makes taking to them hazardous at the best of times. With record numbers of vehicles being sold to new drivers, the problem is getting worse. Throw into the mix the spectre of drink-driving and a nightmarish scenario is created. A pledge by authorities to take action is obviously good, but as with all regulations, promises are worthless without dedicated oversight.

One in 10 mainlanders has a driver's licence and every third licence-holder owns a car. The government's economic stimulus package has made buying a vehicle more affordable than ever and China is tipped to surpass the United States this year as the world's biggest market. That means 12 million new vehicles could take to the roads. The figures are impressive but daunting; officials are not prepared. There are only 250,000 traffic policeman on the mainland. They have to manage traffic jams in addition to catching road rule violators. Offenders know that they can break the law and have a high chance of not being noticed. The problem is especially challenging when it comes to drink-driving, where there is also a lack of testing equipment, legal backup and resources for education and media campaigns.

Pledges of a crackdown on Friday and random testing on Saturday night were a step in the right direction. The scale of the problem was revealed by more than one in 20 drivers stopped in Guangdong province testing positive for having consumed alcohol. Of them, 78 were detained for exceeding the legal limit. It must be remembered, though, that only 20,000 vehicles were stopped by the 500 units deployed - barely scratching the surface of the problem.

The death toll from drink-driving is rising. If it is to be lowered, pledges for action have to be backed with resources. More police dedicated to the campaign have to be employed and trained. They need equipment to catch and test offenders. Drivers have to be told of the seriousness of drinking and driving by advertising campaigns, education and the courts.