Taipei Fines Passengers of DUI's

Taipei TimesEditorial: Drunk Driving Plan
Goes Too Far

Friday, Nov 21, 2003, Page 8

The National Police Administration (NPA) dropped a bomb on Tuesday by
announcing plans to impose fines of up to NT$12,000 on the adult
passengers of drunk drivers. The NPA proposed a similar fine on anyone
who served alcohol to a drunk driver. The announcement immediately drew
outrage from the legislature and the general public, in particular from
operators of pubs and restaurants. The agency scrapped its proposal.

Cracking down on drunk driving is laudable, given the alarming recent
increase in the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers. According to
the NPA, the deaths attributed to drunk driving increased from 356 in
2000 to 443 last year, making drunk driving one of the top 10 accidental
causes of death in the nation.

The agency must have thought its plan was an ingenious way to win some
brownie points from the public — its own statistics reveal high levels
of public support for tougher measures against drunk driving. For
example, 89 percent of people support confiscating the vehicles of drunk
drivers as soon as they are caught.

Nevertheless, the means chosen by the NPA were simply inappropriate,
if not unlawful. Obviously, this was an attempt to copy the so-called
“dram shop” or “social host” laws of some countries, and some states in
the US, under which bar and restaurant owners may be liable to third
parties injured in drunk-driving accidents when they have “knowingly”
sold alcoholic beverages to drunk drivers.

Unfortunately, the agency’s proposal differed from these laws in
several critical ways. The “dram shop” laws typically impose civil
liability only when injuries have actually occurred, while the agency was
seeking to impose fines merely if someone was found driving under the
influence of alcohol. The idea behind the dram shop laws is to compensate
for actual injuries and losses sustained by victims, while the NPA’s
proposal was strictly a punitive sanction by the government. That seems
harsh.

The NPA was seeking to impose such sanctions not only on providers of
alcoholic beverages, but also on passengers in drunk drivers’ vehicles,
whose only sin is not acting to stop others from drinking and driving.
This would place many people at grave risk of being penalized for the
actions of others. The agency had thought that this might force
bystanders to take car keys away from drunk drivers and do the driving
themselves, but instead, many passengers would simply take a taxi home,
leaving their drunk friends still in possession of the keys.

The “dram shop” laws also state that pub operators must have acted
“knowingly,” which is a high threshold to meet. They must have sold the
alcoholic beverages “knowing” that the person in question was already
drunk. For that to happen, the driver would have to exhibit physical
manifestations of his or her drunkenness. It’s not clear how bar staff
can decide to refuse a customer a drink if they don’t know the customer
is drunk.

Another issue that should not be ignored is the way that the NPA
announced the proposal and then hastily retracted it. This demonstrates
serious problems with the organization’s decision-making mechanism. The
decision to make the announcement was obviously made without sufficient
forethought. This kind of mistake should not be repeated. Otherwise the
NPA will give the impression that it is as careless about drafting policy
as many people are about getting behind the wheel when they have been
drinking.

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