First-Time Drunk Drivers Will Not Face Court

A police official said on Thursday that more than 1,800 people were fined and 58 sent to court for alcohol-related traffic offenses in the first month of the year, as the country’s new traffic law came into force.

Police also announced this week that the law, which has already seen numerous revisions amid public frustration over its implementation, would soon be amended so that first-time drunk drivers could avoid court.

Ty Long, deputy director of the National Police’s public order department, said 109,227 fines were handed to motorists across the country in January, with nearly 2 percent of those going to drunk drivers.

Mr. Long said the traffic law would soon be updated to allow drunk drivers to pay a fine of 400,000 riel, or about $100, and be spared a court appearance.

“In the traffic law, Article 77 states that people who drive when drunk will face a fine and be sent to the court, but now there will be an amendment so that first-time offenders will only be fined,” he said.

“The reason we changed it is because we wanted to give an opportunity to offenders. If we detain them and send them to jail, it’s too fast,” he said.

However, if individuals fined for drunken driving reoffend within six months, they would be sent to court to face fines of up to 4 million riel, or about $1,000, Mr. Long said.

And when inebriated drivers are stopped, he added, police would not allow them back into their vehicles.

“When detained at the scene, they will have to contact their family to transport them home, or they will be made to exercise until they are refreshed, and no longer drunk,” he said.

Ear Chariya, a road safety expert, said that hitting first-time offenders with fines was a practical solution, as few ended up in court regardless.

“Sending drunk drivers and other traffic offenders to court is very uncommon in Cambodia. Taking this into the practical context, implementing the high provisional penalties to drivers with an alcohol rate of and above 0.40 mg per liter of breath air, instead of sending them to court, would be more feasible,” he said.

Mr. Chariya added that he liked the idea of making drunken drivers work off the alcohol in their system before allowing them back on the road.

“That would be great,” he said. “But so far, police did not keep the drunk drivers at the station until they sober up.”

(Additional reporting by George Wright)

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