Night from Friday to Saturday. The first drunk drivers have been detained before midnight. A woman is aggressive. She has knocked a fence to the ground. The inhabitants of the multi-story apartment block have been awakened by the roar of the engine. She is stuck on the kerb and keeps stepping on the gas.
The limit to criminal liability – 1.5 permilles – has not been hit. The car will not be seized. The driver is subjected to an administrative penalty.
"Administrative violation, 2-3 years with no driving licence. Very serious. The license is taken away, then the [driving] exam must be retaken," Mārtiņš Grauzis, Inspector of the Special Tasks Division of the State Police, explained the punishment measure applied to the driver.
The police have observed that, for the time being, even the possibility of losing their car and getting into serious trouble, does not stop the drunk drivers. “People haven't really figured it out yet. It's serious that the car is confiscated, it's pretty painful,” the inspector said.
Next, the attention of the police crew is attracted by jolly travelers waving their hands out of the window. They're all drunk, except the driver. Everybody wants to blow into the alcometer.
Others in the meantime manage to get a hefty penalty for speeding. A car has exited a roundabout on Mūkusalas Street at a speed of 84 kilometers per hour (km/h), although the speed allowed here is 50 km/h. He has been offered the chance to admit guilt, in which case the penalty will be halved to EUR 80, but must be paid within 15 days. If not, he must pay EUR 160.
However, the detained Lithuanian citizen only speaks English and insists officers have no right to take away his license – which is actually a United Kingdom driving license. His demand to speak to someone of higher rank is rejected. In an email, he receives a police protocol on the punishment and a message that six months later, he will be able to recover the suspended license.
Police also stop a motorist on the Salu Bridge in Rīga. "At the permitted speed of 70 km/h, the speed was 131 km/h, exceeding 51 km/h in the populated area. The license was taken away. A penalty of €360-460 applies, we imposed €400," Grauzis said. A speed camera penalty is also pending at that stage of the bridge.
On Sunday, 13 drunk drivers were caught on Latvia's roads. Ten of them were so intoxicated that they will get their car confiscated. Both doctors and police say – there are drivers who lose their licenses repeatedly. They drink regularly and regularly sit behind the wheel intoxicated. Narcologists believe that such people can only recover their license after they get a full course of treatment.
"1.5 permilles and more, often we see 2 and 3, it cannot be from one time [drinking]. They have been using for a day, two days or more. There are addiction problems. They have to go to the specialists. I believe that licenses can only be recovered if they go through a full course of treatment," said Astrīda Stirne, head of the Narcological Assistance Service of the Riga Psychiatry and Narcology Centre.
On Tuesday, February 7, State Police chief Armands Ruks told Latvian Television that since the legislation on criminal liability for heavily intoxicated driving was introduced, the number of drunk drivers caught has started to reduce.
“I don't want to be hasty, but an overall decline is seen. Before, there were 70-80 cases in a week – but in the first five weeks of this year there were 53 and fewer [cases a week],” Ruks said.
At the same time, he pointed out that there had been little time since the changes were introduced, so no hasty conclusions should be drawn.