Hard to purge drink-driving scourge

SINGAPORE - The scourge of drink driving looks like it is not going away any time soon, if The New Paper's checks with valets at several nightspots are anything to go by.

But it seems some drivers still think driving under the influence of alcohol is no crime.

Last weekend, we spoke to some of them at the Tanjong Pagar, Orchard Road and Boat Quay areas.

Five valets said it was not unusual to encounter clubbers who insist on driving themselves home, even when they had drunk too much.

"I have a few of such cases each week, but we can't do anything. To be very honest, they are our customers and I can't offend them," said a valet working in a club at Tanjong Pagar who wanted to be known only as Mr Ameen.

Last year, the police arrested 2,917 people for drink driving. This is a 6.6 per cent increase compared to 2735 in 2011.

In the first five days of this month alone, three cases of drink driving were reported, at Woodlands Road, Tampines and on the East Coast Parkway.

On July 3, a Suzuki sport utility vehicle (SUV) rammed into a teenage girl and a boy at the junction of Tampines Avenue 4 and Tampines Street 91, landing them in hospital with broken bones.

The SUV driver was arrested for drink driving.

Other recent arrests for drink driving include a driver who crashed at Mount Faber on June 10 and a man who slammed his car into the gate of a Changi Heights house on June 26.

Said Mr Ameen, who is in his 30s: "We have customers who insist on driving themselves home after clubbing. I honestly don't know why they take the risk.

"We charge them only $50 to drive them back, but if they refuse, we can only remind them that it is against the law as we can't force them."

A spokesman for GN Valet, a company that provides valet services at Clarke Quay and St James Power Station, said that its valets are regularly reminded to look out for intoxicated patrons and advise them to take a cab or use the drive-home valet service.

He added: "When confronted by drunk drivers who insist on driving themselves home, we try to persuade them to see the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol."

"If they insist on driving, we get them to rest first. If not, we get our drivers to send them home," said the spokesman.

So should more be done to send a stronger social message to inculcate more responsibility in these drivers?

'Difficult'

Mr Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentar Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said that empowering valets to stop drunk patrons from driving off would be "difficult".

However, he added: "The message by the police is strong and clear, our laws are strict. We need to keep emphasising it so that it remains clear to everyone."

Those found guilty of drink driving will be disqualified from driving for at least 12 months. First-time offenders can be fined between $1,000 and $5,000, or jailed up to six months. Repeat offenders face a maximum fine of $30,000 and a mandatory jail term of up to three years.

They may also be caned up to six strokes, should death or serious injury result from the accident.

Criminal lawyer Amolat Singh, who has represented four clients accused of driving under the influence of alcohol this year, argued that while the law is sufficient, the Traffic Police should step up its enforcement.

"I think the police could do more like stepping up its checks, making them irregular other than late-night enforcement because there are people out there who believe that if they drink and drive off before 10pm, they won't get caught," he added.

The authorities can also consider supplementing the fine and suspension system with preventive measures when it comes with dealing with drink drivers, said lawyer Sunil Sudheesan of RHT Law LLP He said: "Perhaps one way is to have the authorities work hand in hand with clubs to solve this problem.

"If a patron is drunk and refuses to listen, perhaps the clubs could refer him/her to the police to settle the matter."

When contacted, a police spokesman said that while the police will continue with its anti-drink driving efforts, the community should also play their part to further discourage drink driving.

"Such irresponsible and dangerous behaviour should be negatively viewed upon and seen as totally unacceptable," she said.


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