Latvian Radio spoke to Ilona, whose son Alvils was caught drunk driving. He had been at a friend's birthday party and decided to drive home after having a drink. Alvils lost his license for a year, and also his job.
"How come? He drinks very little. Such a fatal coincidence. He'll have to look for another job now. Without a license, it is difficult for a man to find anything good," said Ilona.
Around 3,500 drivers are stripped of their licenses due to drunk driving each year – equivalent to nearly 10 every single day. The length of the punishment depends on the degree of intoxication.
According to the Central Road Safety Directorate (CSDD) which is responsible for the issuance of driving licenses, there are currently around 875,000 active licenses in Latvia among the population of 1.9 million. 41,000 new licenses were issued in 2021.
“Currently there is a gradation. The fine is between €210 and €2,000. But the term of confiscation of the license is between 6 months and 5 years. For example, for drunk driving with [blood alcohol] of 0.5 to one promille, the fine is between €430 and €640 and the driving license is withdrawn for one year. Consequently, as the amount of these indicators increases, both the amount of the fines and the term of confiscation change,” said Juris Jančevskis, Chief of the Transport Safety Board of the State Police.
Around two thousand drivers each year are caught heavily intoxicated.
“This means that most sit behind the wheel consciously at such a level of intoxication, without thinking about the consequences whether for their safety or for the safety of other road users. And on their part, it is a deliberate action,” said Jančevskis.
When losing a license, the driver also loses the weapons permit if there is one. As a result, they can no longer work, for example, as a guard. In order to restore driver's licenses and weapons permits, a health check should be completed. It shall be performed by specialized commissions composed of two narcologists, a psychiatrist, neurologist, ophthalmologist, otorhinolaryngologist, and surgeon. One of the most popular commissions is located in the Riga center of Psychiatry and Narcology.
"The specialized commission should assess the state of health as it is now. Of course, you can't overlook what has been 20 years back. When judging people with visual impairment, it is also assessed what their condition is and what has been before. The same with psychological disorders,” said Iveta Ķiece, head of the Psychiatric Assistance Service.
This register is maintained by the Disease Prevention and Control Center. The most recent data available are for 2020: 832 patients were newly enrolled with alcohol dependency.
"It doesn't mean they are just 832 patients in the country. They are the ones who had a diagnosis of “alcohol addiction” for the first time in a given year. And the proportion of men and women – 78% are men and 22% are women. Most often, a diagnosis of alcohol addiction comes between the ages of 35 and 60," said Aija Pelne, head of the Dependant Diseases Risk Analysis Division.
Information on the total number of patients with alcohol dependency in Latvia is not collected. But it is known that the number of newly registered cases is declining, while the number of repeat treatments for alcohol addiction is increasing.
“If you look at the data in other sections, there is an increase in the number of patients returning and treating again. If in 2017 there were 22% of patients treated both outpatient and in hospitals, in 2021 it was 48% in 2021, double,” Aija Pelne said.
Cabinet regulations prescribe that data must be entered into the register by both state-paid and private doctors. However, this is often not the case, particularly in the private sector. Therefore, the records of specified diseases are incomplete, according to both doctors and officials.
Most drunk drivers recover their licenses. According to CSDD statistics, 1,757 residents did so last year, and more than 500 drunk drivers renewed their license this year.