Cheers to guidelines on drink driving penalties

Cheers to guidelines on drink driving penalties

SINGAPORE - The new sentencing guidelines spelt out in the High Court last month to punish drink drivers, was widely applauded by road safety advocates and the Traffic Police.

They say the tiered sentencing bands, which penalises offenders based on the level of alcohol in their body, will not only improve road safety but also send a strong signal that there is no room for drink drivers on the roads here.

"The message that the law will come down hard on offenders is very important... because a drink driver has the capacity to destroy other people's lives," said MP Hri Kumar Nair, chairman for the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law.

The legal limit here is 35 micrograms (ug) of alcohol per 100ml of breath.

Under the law, first-time offenders face disqualification from driving for at least a year and a maximum $5,000 fine or six months in jail.

Motorists can also be charged with drink driving even if they are under the legal limit, as long as they do not have proper control of the vehicle.

After reviewing recent cases of drink driving, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Sept 30 laid out four bands for sentencing:

  • $1,000 to $2,000 fine and a driving ban of 12 to 18 months for offenders with between 35ug and 54ug;
  • $2,000 to $3,000 fine and 18 to 24 months' ban for offenders with 55-69ug;
  • $3,000 to $4,000 fine and 24 to 36 months' ban for those with 70-89ug;
  • More than $4,000 fine and banned for 36 to 48 months or longer for those with at least 90ug.

Last year, 2,917 people were arrested for drink-driving, up from 2,735 in 2011. In the past two months, at least three separate cases, one involving three fatalities, made the headlines.

The Chief Justice had outlined the new guidelines when he reduced a 36-year-old's sentence for drink driving last November to a 21-month ban and a $2,500 fine. This was after the driver was given a $3,000 fine and two-year driving ban in May.

Five of the nine convictions reported in the news this year so far involved offenders who just breached the 35ug limit. Of the remaining four cases, two fell into the second banding, and two in the last tier.

Lawyers who have represented drink drivers told The Sunday Times that most of them breached the permitted levels "by a whisker".

Lawyer Amolat Singh, who has been in practice for 21 years, said 80 to 90 per cent of drink drivers whom he has dealt with, do not intentionally fall afoul of the law. "They just had one or two drinks and thought they were still mentally and physically able to drive," he said.

Singapore Road Safety Council vice-chairman Gopinath Menon, however, said managing alcohol and getting behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol are not the same thing.

"That is why we must continue to educate drivers that driving is onerous, requiring alertness and undivided attention to the road."

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