Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ignorance (of the Law) is Bliss

I went out for hotpot the other night with some friends and was planning to have a few beers. The trouble is, you see, I wanted to have a few beers with the meal and then ride the scooter home. I know, I know, drinking and driving don't mix, blah, blah, blah. But I could drink under the legal limit and still drive, right? That is, of course, still legal.

However, what exactly is the legal limit in Taiwan? Most Taiwanese I asked just spouted off what the commercials against drunk driving say, "Jiou hou bu kai che," "After alcohol, don't drive." They basically were saying to me that there is a zero tolerance towards any driving after drinking (some countries do have zero tolerance laws). One local guy at work even went as far as saying if they stopped me and detected alcohol on the breath, one small wiff and you'd be busted.

[BTW, the drunk driving checks in Taipei amount to police road blocks, usually at night, in very typical spots around bridges or very heavily traveled roads. They are very predictable and often the police cars leave their lights on, warning vehicles in advance of the road blocks. The scientific drunk test amounts to an officer stopping a vehicle and asking for the driver to blow in his face so he can take a wiff. That's it! Hope he likes the smell of the stinky tofu I just ate! Some officers have also started to use flashlights to check pupil dilation. So much for robust checking....]

This brings me to a side point: Taiwanese are mostly pretty ignorant of their laws. In fact, Taiwanese just have impressions of their laws or know hear-say about the laws but do not know the fine letter of their laws. If you want to test this, ask someone about a law that you know a lot about back home and see if there is a Taiwanese equivalent. You'll understand what I mean.

So, Taiwanese, for the most part, live in ignorance of their laws. They go about their lives with a feeling for what is right or wrong for society but largely are unaware at the legal structures in place to settle legal matters. When I think about how people back home take no time to spout off their God-given rights and threaten to sue at the drop of a hat, you can immediately notice a difference in Taiwan which is much less of a litigation society. This is a kind of bliss.

Perhaps Taiwan is headed in the litigation society direction, though, with all the legal wrangling in the courts these days. It is important to note that previous presidents were technocrats with degrees in things like Agriculture Economics (Lee Deng-Hui). But now, we have had a lawyer by profession (President Chen who has landed himself in some legal troubles recently) and someone who studied Law (current President Ma). As in the West, lawyers and law-types seem to be rising here in Taiwan politics.

I digress. Back to the drunk driving law. Here is something more concrete and fairly up to date from the Taipei Times:

"Under the former regulations, the legal limit for a driver's blood-alcohol level was 0.25mg per liter. If a driver's blood-alcohol level exceeded 0.25mg per liter, he or she faced a fine of between NT$15,000 (US$460) and NT$60,000 -- depending on the type of vehicle driven and the blood alcohol content measured.

If a driver's blood alcohol content exceeded 0.55mg per liter, he or she would be charged with the inability to drive safely, which carried either a maximum one-year jail sentence or a maximum fine of NT$30,000.

The new regulations punish serious drunk drivers with both imprisonment and a fine, stipulating that if a driver's blood alcohol level exceeds 0.55mg per liter, he or she could face up to one-year in prison as well as a fine of up to NT$150,000.

As a result, should an offender receive a six-month sentence (the maximum length of sentence that can be commuted to a fine), and commutes the term to a fine, the offender would face paying a fine of up to NT$690,000."

Taipei Times

There are, in fact, 2 different standards for testing: BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) and mg/liter.

The definitive source is the TBAF or Taiwan Beverage Alcohol Forum a group sponsored by the major alcohol companies in Taiwan:

The current penalty listing below:

Alcohol Strength Automobile Payment
Alcohol breathalyzer test over 0.25mg/litre to 0.4mg/litre or BAC at 0.05% to 0.08%


Sedan 19500
Long & heavy vehicle 22500
The driver convicted with DUI twice in one year and one dose not have a driver license. 60000

Alcohol breathalyzer test over 0.4mg/litre to 0.55mg/litre or BAC at 0.08% to 0.11%


Sedan 34500
Long & heavy vehicle 37500
The driver convicted with DUI twice in one year and one dose not have a driver license. 60000
Alcohol breathalyzer test over 0.55mg/litre and above or BAC 0.11% and above

Long & heavy vehicle 52500
The driver convicted with DUI twice in one year and one dose not have a driver license. The drunk driver would be prosecuted if caused any car accident 60000

Information source: Taipei City Police Department Traffic Division.

There you have it but if you blinked or fell asleep you may have missed an important distinction about Taiwan's drunk driving law. Countries like the US and some parts of Canada have BAC legal tolerance up to 0.08 but Taiwan's is 0.05 which is quite a bit lower.

According to the Wikipedia, that means for a 82kg man, anything more that 2 cans of beer would put you over 0.05 (subtract approximately .01% for every 40 minutes after drinking), theoretically speaking. [I am not responsible for any faulty math or reading of the charts]

So, scooter and car drivers beware! Only 1 can of beer for me before I hit the road... just to be sure. Ignorance of Taiwan's drunk driving law is not bliss. It could be quite costly.

TBAF faq page

TBAF drunk driving statistics Seems like mid-Taiwan has, by far, the most incidents. That is, if all police forces are equally diligent in enforcing and reporting.

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