No loophole for drunken drivers

Gao Xiaosong, a well-known 42-year-old singer and music producer became the first celebrity to be caught drunken driving after the amended Road Traffic Security Law came into effect on May 1. Gao, famous for his campus ballad My Deskmate in the 1990s, was sentenced to jail for six months, fined 4,000 yuan ($615), and banned from driving for five years on May 17, for drunken driving that caused a four-car accident that injured three people. It is the harshest punishment on drunken driving according to the law.

 The newly amended Criminal Law clearly stipulates that drunken driving is a criminal offense. Compared to the previous law, it demonstrates that the government is determined to crackdown on drunken driving.

 Alcohol is deep rooted in China’s culture, and drunken driving has become a common phenomenon. According to a China Youth Daily survey, 99.6 percent of people surveyed said that members of their family and friends had driven while drunk. But the reality is statistics shows that in 2008 alone, the total death toll from traffic accidents caused by drunken driving reached more than 18,000. Obviously one way to save lives is to strictly enforce the law.

 Two weeks have passed since the amended law came into force and the number of drunken driving incidents has declined sharply. Yet Zhang Jun, vice-president of the top court, and Chen Zexian, director of the institute of international law under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Yang Wanming, a senior judge from the top court, agreed that different drunken driving cases should be treated differently, and even cited Article 13 of the Criminal Law, which says “offenses that cause very little harm to society should not be accounted for as crimes”. The top court has since ordered the lower court to use caution in drunken driving cases.

 These remarks have trigged heated debate in the country.

 What do these experts mean? Their words are different from the law. It looks like they are trying to find excuses for offenders. Once drunken driving cases are differentiated based on their consequences they are no longer judged by the Law. The judge can use their discretion to decide what constitutes little harm and there will be the opportunity to “persuade” the judge.

 To avoid such a situation, the courts should not only strictly enforce the amended law, but also the Super People’s Court should make clarifications on the drunken driving issue to correctly guide the lower courts.

 Before the law, everybody should be equal, with no privileged persons and celebrities.

 As Gao said, “I thought alcohol could free me but it made me lose my freedom. If you stick to drunken driving, you will end up with your hands in handcuffs.”

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