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Drink-drivers face stiffer penalties under study set to go before Legco

Anita Lam, SCMP

First-time offenders for drink-driving should be banned from getting back behind the wheel for at least two years if their blood-alcohol level was three times over the legal limit when they were caught, according to a consultation paper to be discussed by the Transport Advisory Committee today.

The paper proposes that the government introduce a three-tier penalty to replace the current three-month suspension period, sources said.

First-time offenders would have their licences suspended for a minimum of six months, one year or two years depending on whether their alcohol level exceeds 50mg, 80mg or 150mg per 100ml of blood, respectively. They currently face a minimum three months’ suspension.

For second-time offenders, the minimum suspension would be two years, three years and five years. At present, they are banned from driving for at least two years.

The suggestions came out of a four-month review of drink-driving legislation and other related laws following a fatal collision between a taxi and a truck in Lok Ma Chau that claimed six lives last December. The truck driver is awaiting trial on a charge of dangerous driving causing death.

The minimum two-year disqualification for a conviction for dangerous driving causing death will not be changed. That means it would be possible for a drink-driver to be banned from getting behind the wheel for a longer period than someone who kills a person while driving.

But the government is suggesting that drink-driving be introduced as an aggravating factor for cases of dangerous driving causing death, allowing judges to add an extra 50 per cent to the sentence and the disqualification period, a well-placed source said. “It is a guideline, after all. Two years [of disqualification] is a minimum,” the source said. “The judge can exercise his discretion.”

The maximum jail term for dangerous driving causing death was increased from five years to 10 years in July. Authorities were also planning to introduce a charge called dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm. It is understood the offence will carry a maximum jail term of seven years and at least two years’ licence disqualification.

“The new charge is to address drink-driving accidents in which the victims are critically injured or in coma,” another source said. The existing penalty for drink driving, a maximum of three years’ jail, “does not seem appropriate for such cases”.
Officers studied overseas legislation and World Health Organisation guidelines on alcohol consumption to reach the suggestions. The proposal will be discussed by the Legislative Council’s transport panel on July 17.

Families of victims have called for jail terms to be separated from the disqualification period, with the two penalties to be served one after the other, rather than concurrently.

But the source said that would require further study and there were few precedents on the matter in other jurisdictions.


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