How to curb drink driving in Malaysia
By Hafidz Baharom
In the recent months, drink driving became a perceptibly important issue due to press coverage. From a statistical point of view for the cause of accidents in Malaysia, drink driving ranks one of the lowest causes of deadly accidents in the country.
However, the prominence of the cases have increased due to deaths of innocent bystanders while the driver is found relatively unharmed.
It becomes even more mysterious because these drink driving incidences happened during the Movement Control Order (MCO), when Malaysians were placed under a relative lockdown, roadblocks were manned by both the Armed Forces and the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), and simultaneously, all shops limited their operating hours.
As such, one question that needs to be asked is how is it even possible for someone to drink themselves to the point of intoxication and end up driving at odd hours?
This is a very curious case to consider when the court cases arrive in court.
Moving forward, multiple ministries and departments need to co-operate for a holistic solution towards nudging people towards three choices:
1. Stop drinking altogether
2. Sobering up before driving
3. Stop people from driving if they are drinking beyond the blood alcohol limit
For this purpose, let’s look at (2) and (3)
Sobering up before driving home
This option has always been available in the past, particularly among those going out clubbing. The normalcy was to push people to sober up at a 24-hour food outlet, either a fast food franchise or the constantly and widely available mamak restaurants in Malaysia.
Could this be one of the reasons drink driving became more prominent during the MCO, since such options was not available? It could have been a contributing factor, but there was also the option to pull over into a parking lot and sleep the alcohol off.
In order to push a sobering up agenda, alcohol licensed outlets (restaurants, pubs and thereabouts) could be allowed to enforce or care for the customers from their own establishments who end up drunk in their premises.
As such, making it a condition that the establishment is indeed responsible for the alcoholic beverages served that end up causing deaths on the road could be allowed. It would add an element of responsible business ethics on the owners, to ensure that they do not just think of money but also the life and well-being of their customers – as they actually should.
Making license owners responsible for the actions of their customers who drive drunk to the point of causing death is easily enforced for those that allow drinking on site, but hard to enforce for those acting as a mere trader – i.e supermarkets, hyper markets, convenience stores.
Stop people from driving if they are beyond the blood alcohol limit
This option gives the owners to look at their customers and gauge whether or not they should be allowed to drive. But it is also perplexing that such an action needs to be taken by a publican or a restaurant owner of their service staff, because it means that these people are drinking alone.
What perplexes me is that drinking is usually a group event where multiple individuals sit to chat, eat, and even go about their evenings together. Thus, how is it that nobody in such a group would take responsibility for a friend or an acquaintance who ends up drunk out of their minds and causing an accident?
Surely there are those who would take away the drunkard’s car keys and get the guy into a Grab or a taxi.
However, should it be a case of a lone drinker, then the service staff at all establishments with an alcohol license should keep a close eye on such customers, particularly if it seems that they are inebriated to the point of not knowing when to stop.
To such an end, the Malaysian government should approach e-hailing companies to advertise in drinking areas prominently to encourage alcohol drinkers to opt out of driving to go drinking altogether.
A soft touch and profitable way is for local councils to take over the management of parking in these areas and increase the parking rates to the point that driving in the area becomes unfeasible.
Couple this with the closing off of such areas from driving altogether would also make it safer for all – the drunk would have to walk all the way to the parking area, thus giving them time to either sober up or fall asleep half way, or opt for an e-hailing car which can pick them up without the need to walk too far at all, leaving their car unharmed in the parking lot, or opt to just use e-hailing altogether for the evening out.
Will harsher penalties help?
Yes, harsher penalties, including a mandatory prison sentence does work in cutting down drink driving. However, at the same time, one way to stop drink driving altogether would not be to just review the sentence, but also the condition.
Currently the blood alcohol content (BAC) stands at 0.08 to be considered legally intoxicated. Japan sets it at 0.03 – pretty much one can of beer.
Korea does the same, but has a tiered system in their law against drink driving, with 0.03 – 0.08 earning a 90 day suspension of their license and a US$5,000 fine, and 0.08 – 0.20 earning a 1 year revocation of their drivers license, and a US$10,000 fine.
However, harsh penalties must be coupled with choices made available to those who wish to avoid driving drunk- either e-hailing, public transport, or even an hourly hotel to sleep off the alcohol.
Public transport would be too expensive to cope without a continuous flow of passengers, therefore it would be unfeasible in Malaysia with it’s minority population of drinkers.
At the same time, the fear and prejudice against religious authority raids of hotels will probably put off drunks from thinking of sleeping off in a cheap hotel.
As such, it would be feasible for the Malaysian federal government and local councils to approach e-hailing companies to look for a way to promote their services in areas with a high concentration of establishments registered with an alcohol license.
Closing off the roads in such areas and limiting parking in such areas will also help reduce the risk of people choosing to drive there and back again, putting focus on foot traffic instead. In fact, this would also provide the opportunity for local councils to consider closing off areas into a full plaza, thus becoming it an even more attractive spot for outdoor dining and drinking.
Of course, to promote the agenda against drink driving, the government can learn back from their old ads on national television in the 1990s which advertised against this issue.
Furthermore, making a standard compulsory government poster discouraging drink driving for all establishments with an alcohol license can also be a nudge towards Malaysian drinkers.
Finally, getting e-hailing apps push the message of e-hailing servings, using a geotag in areas with a high concentration of alcohol licenses, or even using their own linked databases from their food delivery services showing their customers being at alcohol serving restaurants and bars would also be beneficial.
Another use of tech would be for the authorities to highlight the nightly roadblocks to detect drink driving on mapping apps, see where the alternative routes for people avoiding these roadblocks, and set up a police patrol cars on these alternative routes for drunk drivers.