Taiwan seeks heavier sentences for fatalities caused by drunk driving

Taipei (The China Post/ANN) - Taiwan's Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is seeking heavier prison terms for drunk drivers who cause deaths, the ministry said yesterday.

The MOJ will finalize a draft bill in the next few days proposing prison terms ranging from three to 10 years for drivers found guilty in cases of drunk driving-related deaths, officials said.

Convicted drivers will not be given suspended imprisonment or a chance to convert the prison terms to fines, both of which are currently options that judges may consider, according to the MOJ.

Under the current law, such drivers face prison terms ranging from one to seven years.

In cases where drunk-driving causes serious injuries, the bill seeks to raise the prison terms to one to five years from the current imprisonment of six months to five years.

Drunk driving alone (defined as having a blood alcohol content of 0.055 or more) will result in a maximum jail term of two years, with no conversion to fines allowed.

MOJ officials were cited as pointing out that the three-year minimum term for drunk driving cases involving deaths is comparable to that for robbery, corruption, rape and organized crimes.

Drunk driving has been a perennial problem in Taiwan, but President Ma Ying-jeou noted that some recent high-profile cases resulting in deaths have highlighted the severity of problem.

He said heavier punishment is needed to curb drunk driving.

He said the National Police Agency (NPA) has been doing the "right thing" by stepping up an anti-drunk driving campaigns in Taiwan's five special municipalities, as well as in Taoyuan County.

But such a campaign is not enough, he said, adding he has asked the MOJ to study if there are ways to prevent repeat offenders from driving.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Lee Hung-yuan and NPA Director-General Wang Cho-chun were in Kaohsiung and Taipei respectively to oversee a crackdown on drunk driving in the two cities last night.

According to NPA statistics, drunk driving cases totaled 36,316 from January to April this year, and 148 people died in drunk driving cases during the four months, three less than the number recorded for the same period of last year.

The NPA said drunk driving remains the most common cause of death in car accidents.

Last year, 2,117 people died in car accidents, and 439, or 20.7 percent of them, were killed in drunk driving cases, NPA statistics show.

In related news, a woman driver believed to be driving under the influence of alcohol died after her car swerved into the opposing lane and collided with a truck in Kaohsiung on Thursday.

Police investigation showed that the woman, surnamed Lin, had an alcohol level exceeding the permitted limit.

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