Tougher laws can stop drink driving

We can argue passionately that people should relinquish car keys after drinking, but the reality is drinkers will still get behind the wheel if they don't fear the consequences.

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Common sense would seem to be the best deterrent against drink driving. But carelessness and car keys mixed with alcohol remains inexplicably, a deadly combination on the nation's roadways.

Thirteen drunk-driving deaths were registered in the first 10 months of 2009, and just three were registered in the same period last year. But the numbers are again creeping up.

As The National reports today, the number of alcohol-related deaths on Dubai's highways has tripled again, from three to nine. This may seem insignificant in absolute terms, but statistically the trend is far from minor.

Police are planning to increase traffic patrols around hotels and nightclubs to curb this trend. This is welcome. Stepping up patrols would deter motorists under the influence from getting behind the wheel, preferably before they do harm to themselves or others.

Yet patrols alone will not change behaviours. We can argue passionately that people should hand their keys over after drinking, but the reality is drinkers will still get behind the wheel if they don't fear the consequences. When punishments such as jail terms are weak or not enforced consistently, legal deterrents will do little to dissuade.

Saeed Abdullah, a Pakistani man in his 30s, knows this too well. He was hit by a speeding BMW while driving a van to deliver goods to a client. The victim spent three months recovering from his injuries, while the driver - under the influence of alcohol - paid compensation and spent just two weeks in jail.

While drink driving is a criminal offence that carries a jail term of between one month and three years, a fine of Dh20,000, or both, judges don't always apply the law evenly.

The offence typically involves several charges: driving under the influence of alcohol, consumption of alcohol, possession of alcohol, violation of public decency and not abiding by traffic rules. But judges sometimes choose to give one sentence, based on the offence with the heaviest penalty. Combining them is at the discretion of judges, which is why some offenders get more lenient penalties than others. Confiscation of the driver's licence and vehicle is also at the discretion of the judge.

Every case is different, but there is no excuse for drink driving. The only solution is heavier sentences for those who can't resist.