x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Zero tolerance for deadly drink driving

Harsher penalties are needed for those who drink and drive, and especially for those who kill others

Officials and influential figures have long called for harsher penalties for drink drivers. Such calls often follow fatal accidents caused by drink drivers. But the issue persists and there are no signs that the authorities have stepped up measures to curb the trend.

As The National reported yesterday, a Dubai court ordered a drink driver who killed a triathlete to pay Dh200,000 in blood money in addition to spending a month in jail. The triathlete, Roy Nasr, from Lebanon, was cycling one morning last month with two of his friends when he was hit by a car and died on impact.

Judges who issued the verdict acted within the limits of the laws that govern such cases. But the penalties imposed are not sufficient to deter future cases. Driving under the influence of alcohol causes dozens of deaths in the UAE each year. In 2008, 76 people were killed in drink driving accidents, up from 60 deaths the previous year. Similar numbers have been recorded in recent years.

At the same time, penalties for drink drivers have been consistently lenient, especially if the accident is not fatal. Some penalties are even reduced on appeal. Victims sometimes suffer from the effects of these accidents for months, while an offender can pay a fine and get back to his or her life.

Judges might assess a case based on the severity of the harm caused by the accident, but it is important to consider the message a Dh2,000 fine for a drink driver, or even one or two months in prison, sends to the public.

Harsher penalties are needed to curb this deadly habit. But other measures are also needed, such as increased police patrols especially around hotels and nightclubs. Hotels can also apply guidelines to help prevent drunk customers from driving their cars. Such guidelines, if applied by trained staff, can save lives.

Nothing can be more effective than motorists taking responsible decisions before driving their cars. But the toxic mix of alcohol and car keys continues to cause tragedies.

The trend can be stemmed significantly with deterrent penalties, awareness campaigns and supervision. Our whole society must show zero tolerance to such behaviour.