Now let's educate public on drink-driving menace

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 December, 2010, 12:00am

A horrific accident in January last year, in which six men in a taxi were killed by a drunken truck driver at Lok Ma Chau, sparked action on tougher measures to deter drink-driving. Amendments to road safety laws have taken time to pass through the Legislative Council. Thankfully they will come into effect on Friday, a week before Christmas and in time for the festive season, when motorists are more prone to flirt with the deadly mix of alcohol and driving.

The changes are a logical follow-up to the introduction of random breath-testing, which has made our roads safer by removing more drink-drivers before they can do harm to themselves and others. They raise the penalties for driving with more than the permitted blood-alcohol level and introduce the new offence of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years' jail.

A three-tier system raises minimum drink-driving penalties according to alcohol levels. At tier three, after say 12 glasses of beer, a first-offender would face a minimum disqualification from driving of two years - up from three months. Refusing a breath test without reasonable excuse would have the same consequences and will fit the crime against society that it is intended to deter and detect. Severe disqualifications are an effective deterrent, since people with means can shrug off even heavy fines. These measures are in line with overseas trends and are overdue. Officials should now include promotion of public awareness of them in its seasonal road-safety campaign.

The government and the courts try to get the message across that drink-driving is a crime. But in Hong Kong it is arguable that it has yet to acquire the social stigma associated with crime. Hopefully tougher penalties will help change perceptions. But they are only one weapon in the drive to make roads safer.

Prevention is a matter for society as a whole. As with efforts to reduce smoking, public campaigns and education are just as important.