Public must have clear guidelines on drink driving rules

Media Statement
by Teresa Kok

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The government needs to formulate clear guidelines on proposed drink driving rules in the wake of reports that Federal Internal Security and Public Order Director Datuk Othman Talib is saying the Road Transport Act 1987 could be amended so that drivers who are caught driving under the influence of alcohol will have their licenses suspended indefinitely.

While strict action must be taken against drink drivers, the proposal to ban them from driving for an indefinite period is clearly too harsh. We must ensure that the punishment meted out is proportionate to the offence committed. Proposed punishments should include fines and/or suspension from driving for first-time offenders and even prison terms for repeat offenders.

I call on Datuk Othman Talib to reveal whether this is another ad hoc proposal, or whether the government has conducted studies to determine what alcohol level limit should be set and what set of drivers are in the high-risk group.

Many people who indulge in social drinking are innocently unaware of the blood alcohol level limits for driving, unlike in Australia and New Zealand where the authorities have year-round awareness campaigns in schools and in the media.

The authorities must consider setting different alcohol limits for different sets of drivers. High risk groups like youth, learners and commercial vehicle drivers must have zero alcohol level.

For instance, in New South Wales, Australia, the law prescribes three different blood alcohol limits: zero, 0.02 and 0.05. These numbers refer to a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A person's BAC is a measure according to the amount of alcohol present in the blood. The measurement is the number of grams of alcohol in 100mls of blood. (For example, a BAC of 0.05 means 0.05 grams or 50 milligrams of alcohol in every 100mls of blood.)

The limit which applies to a person is dependent on the category of his/her licence and the type of vehicle. Zero alcohol level applies to all learner drivers as well as all provisional 1 and 2 drivers.

In New Zealand, the law clearly states that for an adult, the legal Blood alcohol limit for driving is no more than 80 milligrams of alcohol for every 100mls of blood. (This equates to about 1-2 glasses of wine and 2-3 glasses of beer, depending on one's body weight.) For those under 20, they should not drink any alcohol before they drive. The limit is 30 milligrams for every 100mls.

The New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority and Australia Transport Authority's websites display helpful information on the penalties for drink driving and the permitted alcohol level. In NZ, an Alcohol Advisory Council has also been set up to educate the public on matters related to alcohol.

I call on the authorities to formulate a set of clear guidelines, in simple language, to regulate drink driving. There must be ongoing educational programmes that are proactive, such as through TV and newspaper ads, to educate the public on the dangers of drink driving and also to fully inform them of the permitted level of alcohol consumption while driving.

- Teresa Kok -


*  Teresa Kok, MP for Seputeh and DAP National Publicity Secretary