Saeima deputies push for tougher drunk driving law

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Driving while under the influence of alcohol must be more easily criminally punishable, members of the Saeima Criminal Law Policy Subcommittee said Tuesday, March 29.

According to the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, an average of 2,000 people are punished for driving under the influence of alcohol per year. In about 65 percent of these cases, the intoxication of drivers exceeds 2.0 per mille blood alcohol. But drunk driving itself is a civil rather than criminal offense.

At the meeting, the subcommittee assessed the ministry's proposal to criminalize drunk driving, starting at 2.0 per mille, which would punish an average of about 1,300 people a year. However the subcommittee pushed for a significantly lower limit to criminal liability.

"Every degree of intoxication poses a risk to road safety, and it is irresponsible and unacceptable to drive in such a state. The deputies of the subcommittee urge that the boundary between the administrative penalty and the criminal penalty be set starting from 1.5 per mille,” said Andrejs Judins, the chairman of the subcommittee.

The basic drunk driving limit in Latvia is 0.5 per milles blood alcohol, or 0.2 for drivers with less than 2 years' experience.

Currently, according to the Road Traffic Law, those caught over the 1.5 per mille blood alcohol level, face a fine and having their right to drive a vehicle suspended for five years. Yet criminal liability for driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances is reserved for drivers who do not have the right to drive a vehicle.

Deputies urged the ministry to evaluate issues related to the tests required to determine the concentration of alcohol in the blood, as well as the funding required, before handing the draft laws to the Saeima Legal Commission for further consideration.

Latvia's roads remain some of the deadliest in Europe. EU-wide, road deaths in 2021 rose by 5% on the previous year, although comparisons with 2020 are strongly influenced by the traffic level patterns in each country during the course of the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of road fatalities fell by 17%, according to preliminary EU data.  

Comparing with the pre-pandemic year 2019, road deaths in 2021 fell by 13% with the largest decreases of more than 20% occurring in Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Poland and Lithuania. In contrast, over the last two years Latvia, Slovenia and Finland experienced increases in the number of road fatalities.

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