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Big increase in drunk driving accidents last year in Latvia

The number of road traffic accidents caused by alcohol intoxication increased by nearly 18% last year, it was revealed on Monday, March 5, at the meeting of the Road Traffic Safety Council. 

Significantly fewer administrative violations were recorded on the roads last year. In 2022 as a whole, 19,152 traffic accidents were registered – still more than 50 per day. The total is 419 fewer than in 2021. 

However, the number of road traffic accidents caused by alcohol intoxication greatly increased. Last year, 949 accidents were registered in which the vehicle driver had consumed alcohol, which is 141 more than in 2021.

Juris Jančevskis, head of the Traffic Safety Department of the State Police, stated that "this number has grown considerably".

"These are drivers who have been participants in road traffic accidents, regardless of whether they were the cause or participant, because there are also very often accidents when there is a driver involved whose actions are not causally related to causing the accident, but he was intoxicated," explained the police representative.

For several months now, driving under the influence of alcohol has been subject to criminal liability and confiscation of the vehicle. Current evidence suggests this has improved the stats, but not as much as hoped.

"This year, in the month of January, the total number of detainees was much lower than last year. But unfortunately, half of those arrested this year were under the influence of 1.5 permilles [the heavy intoxication threshold] or more," said a police representative.

Also, 100 accidents were registered in which an electric scooter driver was under the influence of alcohol, which is 29 more accidents than in 2021.

"This is definitely related to the fact that these mobility tools participate more and more in traffic - their number is increasing every year," Jančevskis said.

"What we've found is that many of these drivers still don't see it as a vehicle, but as a recreational or entertainment tool. In fact, the majority of these 100 accidents are where the drivers themselves fall and are injured," revealed Jančevskis.

Interestingly, the most traffic accidents are registered on Thursdays, and the fewest on Saturdays (and particularly Saturday mornings), but the highest number of calls is received at the end of the working day in evening rush hour from 16.00 to 18.00. 

115 people lost their lives in road traffic accidents in Latvia last year, which is 31 fewer than the year before. Indeed, it is the lowest figure since 1991, suggesting significant progress has been made, though Latvia's RTA statistics remain much higher than elsewhere in the European Union. The total included 37 vehicle drivers, 28 pedestrians, and 19 passengers.

The number of seriously injured people decreased from 470 to 429, while the total number of injuries rose very slightly from 3,548 to 3,593 but has essentially remained at the same level for the last three years. 

Minister of Transport Jānis Vitenbergs (National Alliance) emphasized that in order to improve the situation on the roads, it is necessary to evaluate what has been done.

"It must be admitted that these habits of our society and drivers are very difficult to break – it cannot be done in one year, and there are various campaigns and activities that take place year after year, they must definitely be continued," said the Minister.

The total number of administrative violations decreased last year - 154,246 were registered in 2022, and 180,561 a year earlier.

When it comes to drunk drivers, there is a palpable desperation among experts. The penalties are severe, but the mindset of drunk drivers seems resistant to change. But when it comes to other violations, experts suggest stiffer penalties should be pursued – for example, a fine of 200 euros for using a telephone while driving.

"It is important to increase the penalties for both speed and many other things. As well as for not wearing a seat belt. And to remove warnings and go straight to a fine," says Tālivaldis Vectirāns, director of the Department of Road Infrastructure of the Ministry of Transport.

Traffic safety expert Oskars Irbītis said that "We have reached the level of safety in Latvia when we should no longer work with an ax. But one would have to start looking for finer tools, and to find them one has to research. Without research there will be nothing".

In the meantime, 'average speed' cameras are the latest attempt to enforce better driving habits.

The first section on which the average driving speed will be recorded will be the A5 highway, Riga bypass, and is likely to start in around a month – weather permitting.

It is planned that the new radars, which calculate average speed between two fixed points, will appear on 16 road sections this year, as previously reported by LSM

Electric scooters are also on the to-do list this year. The Ministry of Transport emphasizes that there should have been regulations against scooters a long time ago and expresses the hope that, one way or another, the demands on its drivers will be much stricter by the time summer arrives.


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