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To reduce the annual number of 3000 alcohol related traffic accidents in Taiwan, the legislature passed a new drunk-driving law in March 1999. The law makes driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs punishable by either a maximum of one year imprisonment or a fine not exceeding US$1000.
The new law, however, does not specify a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) with which law enforcers can determine whether a drunk driver should be prosecuted. When the law took effect in April 1999 the Ministry of Justice, which has received complaints from law enforcers, recognized the ambiguity of the law and later recommended a BAC of 0.55 mg/l as the point beyond which it is unsafe to drive.
Over the four months since the law went into effect, judges of traffic and summary courts in Taiwan have been inundated with drunk-driving cases. Taipei District Court alone has seen over 300 drunk-driving cases from May to August.
On 9 September 1999, a Taipei Summary Court judge acquitted four men prosecuted under the new drunk-driving law on the grounds that the law is ambiguous as to what constitutes “dangerous driving”. The judge overturned charges made against the four men who were charged solely on the basis of breathalyser test results. The judge argued that the law did not specify the BAC, and an ordinance from Ministry of Justice could not be used to convict the men.
The ambiguity of the law in stipulating a standard measure of drunkenness is just one problem: others regarding the enforcement of the new law include questioning the reliability of the breathalyser, whether other tests like a balance test should be added to gain more information, and the shortage of police and prosecutor manpower.
I do hope that readers of the journal will share their experiences of how to effectively enforce drunk-driving laws.