Drunk Driving: Do Not Relax Efforts to Eradicate This Wrongdoing

Drunk driving and related accidents cause immeasurable loss not only to the people directly involved, but also to their families and others around them. Measures to eradicate drunk driving must not be relaxed.

In Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture, a city official was hit with a disciplinary dismissal this month after being caught allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. In June, a police officer in Fukui Prefecture was also disciplined for driving a car while intoxicated and later resigned.

The severe costs of drunk driving must be recognized afresh.

In rural areas with declining populations, drunk driving is especially likely to occur because vehicles are an essential means of living.

There are many restaurants with parking lots along main roads, and not a few people are willing to drink, thinking, “One or two drinks will be OK.” There is no end to the number of people who drive to weddings and funerals and end up drinking the alcohol they are offered because they cannot refuse.

In such cases, the inviolable rule is to use a taxi or designated-driver service or to decide in advance who will remain sober and drive the car on the return home.

However, the number of vehicles used in designated-driver services — a service that provides a driver for a client’s vehicle with another driver and vehicle to collect the designated driver — has been on the decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from 23,720 in 2019 to 17,265 last year, a decrease of nearly 30%.

Drunk driving should not be allowed to increase just because taxies or designated driver services are not available. Not only drivers themselves but also their companions and restaurants should be reminded of the danger.

Fukuoka Prefecture has an ordinance which makes it mandatory for people to report to the police if they witness drunk driving. Last year, a record 2,050 reports were made, and about 10% of cases caught were triggered by such reports.

Chiba Prefecture has established an ordinance that allows for the imposition of a punitive charge of up to ¥50,000 and the publication of the name of the restaurant if it serves alcohol to customers arriving by car and fails to comply with the prefectural government’s order to prevent a reoccurrence of such incidents. Other local governments can use such ordinances as a model.

The number of fatal accidents involving drunk driving nationwide has halved, from 258 cases in 2012 to 120 last year.

This may be due to the fact that the 2006 accident in which three small children were killed when their car was rear-ended by a drunk driver led to stricter criminal penalties for those in charge of restaurants where alcohol is served, as well as for passengers of vehicles driven by someone who is drunk.

Even so, accidents from drunk driving continue to occur. Last year, about 2,100 accidents occurred. Persistent efforts are needed to eradicate the problem.

Even small amounts of alcohol can impair the brain, and the fatal accident rate for drunk drivers is about seven times higher than for drivers who have not been drinking. Even those who do not drink should understand the dangers of drunk driving, and society as a whole should share a renewed awareness that drunk driving must never be tolerated.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 21, 2023)