Colombia's new drink-drive fine up to 50 times monthly wage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 10:39pm


Colombia is cracking down on drink-driving, imposing a fine nearly 50 times the country's minimum monthly wage as it tries to set an example for Latin America.

After a series of deadly accidents last year, Congress used the holiday period - usually a well-lubricated one to pass the tough new law.

Until now, the fine could be the equivalent of US$900 and 20 hours of community service.

But now, depending on the driver's blood-alcohol level, the fine can reach as much as US$14,600 - in a country where the minimum monthly wage is about $320.

In general, Latin America is not known for road safety.

People are going to be very careful not to be hit with such a big fine

The mortality rate was 16.1 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, according to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). That compares to 10.3 in Europe and 5.8 in France. In the Andean region, where roads are poorly maintained, cars are in bad condition and police checkpoints are rare, the figure goes up to 22.1.

"The two risk factors, which are our top priority, are driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding," said Eugenia Rodrigues, an official with the Pan American Health Organisation who works on road safety issues.

The organisation, which recommends a maximum permitted blood alcohol content of 0.05 (grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood), is constantly urging Latin American countries to set up more drink-driving checkpoints and toughen penalties for offenders.

The PAHO delegate in Colombia, Teofilo Monteiro, welcomed the new legislation, saying the astronomical new fines would surely have a stinging psychological effect on drivers.

"People are going to be very careful not to be hit with such a big fine," Monteiro said. "The main thing is to set up checkpoints."

The PAHO cites Brazil as an example, with its zero tolerance law: a maximum blood alcohol content of 0.005 and fines of up to US$830 for repeat offenders.

Chile is also cracking down. Since 2012, the level there has been reduced from 0.05 to 0.03. A drunk driver is jailed, fined and their licence is suspended.

In the Caribbean, Panama is also preparing Colombia-style punishment, with fines ranging from US$1,500 to US$12,000.