Driving after drinking a glass of soju is also DUI.
/Photography by Kwon Min-jeong
On September 25th, 2018, Yoon Chang-ho (22), a corporal who was on vacation, was hit by a car driven by a drunken driver in Haeundae-gu, Busan, and eventually died in December, 2018 (also known as the Yoon Chang-ho Incident). As a result, the Act on the Aggravated Punishment of Specific Crimes (also known as the “First Yoon Chang-ho Act”) was implemented in December, 2018. The Enforcement of the “Road Traffic Act” (also known as the “Second Yoon Chang-ho Act”) was enforced from June, 2019, strengthening the punishment and crackdown on Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Accordingly, over the past two to three years, public awareness of drunk driving has changed and consciousness has increased. However, since the spread of COVID-19 began on January 28th, the crackdown on DUI has been suspended. Since the crackdown procedure is done by making drivers blow into the breathalyzer, there were concerns about the possibility of infection of the Coronavirus through the test. Although the crackdown was resumed as the number of DUI accidents and deaths increased significantly compared to last year due to poor drinking control, traffic accidents caused by habitual drunk driving and large-scale accidents which led to deaths have occurred one after another up until now. How serious is DUI, and why does this issue never seem to be eradicated?
Driving under the influence means driving drunk
Driving under the influence (DUI) refers to the act of driving under the influence of alcohol. DUI can lead to traffic accidents easily, and if caught by the police, a driver’s license may be revoked. With accidents happening due to DUI, the government is trying to prevent DUI by raising the standards for punishment. For many, the numerical value of 0.03 may seem like an insignificant number. However, the current standard for cracking down on DUI is 0.03% blood alcohol level, which is the value measured when one drinks a glass of soju and gets drunk about an hour later.
DUI happens continuously
Over the past three years, the number of accidents caused by DUI has been decreasing continuously, recording 19,517 in 2017, 19,381 in 2018, and 15,709 in 2019. However, the number of DUI accidents from January to August this year was 11,266, a 16.6% increase from 9,659 in the first half of last year.
Those in their 20s (3,669 cases, 23.4%) were the most likely to have caused DUI accidents with those in their 20s having the highest number of deaths (60 people, 23.4%) as well.
As for the time zone, DUI accidents caused at night (6 P.M. ~ 6 A.M.) accounted for 75.4% of the total. During the daytime (6 A.M. ~ 6 P.M.), the number of accidents occurring between 6 A.M. and 8 A.M. was relatively high, accounting for six percent of the total. This shows that there are quite a lot of hungover drivers who drive without sobering up from the night before.
DUI takes away innocent people’s lives
Recently, DUI accidents have continuously occurred on a large scale and made significant issues. In Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, on September 6th, a vehicle driven by a 50-year-old man drove onto the sidewalk and hit a streetlamp. The impact knocked down the streetlamp, which fell onto a 6-year-old child standing next to it. Eventually, the child died from the accident. The man was driving on his way home after having lunch with an acquaintance, and his blood alcohol level was 0.14%.
In Eurwangni, Incheon, on September 9th, around 12:55 A.M., a 33-year-old woman drove her vehicle over the centerline, crashing into a 54-year-old man on a motorcycle. The critically injured man was immediately taken to a nearby hospital, but died shortly after. The police stated that the woman’s blood alcohol level was over 0.1%, high enough to get her license revoked. It was later revealed that the victim was the owner of a fried chicken restaurant in the neighborhood, who was on his way to the last delivery of the day. A public petition was posted on the Cheong Wa Dae website demanding the driver receive severe punishment and it gained 639,617 approvals.
Moreover, at around 1 A.M., on October 28th, a vehicle driven by a 22-year-old man hit a motorcycle that was in front of him on the fifth one-way road in Hadaewon-dong, Jungwon-gu, Seongnam, Gyeonggi-do Province. A 70-year-old newspaperman, who was delivering newspapers on a motorcycle, was taken to a hospital but died eventually. At the time of the accident, it was confirmed that the blood alcohol level of the man was equivalent to the level that would revoke his license.
DUI is risky and fatal
Drinking affects the body, limits visibility and reduces judgment. The driver is vulnerable to traffic accidents as one’s ability to drive also falls. Once driving under the influence of alcohol, the ability to process visual information becomes impaired. The reduced exposure to vision and light delays the time needed to recognize danger, which is likely to cause signal violations, pedestrian accidents and frontal collisions. Since spatial perception is also degraded, loss of distance and directional sense is likely to lead drivers to reverse driving accidents. Drinking clouds rational judgment as well, which leads to impulsive DUI. This results in speeding, frequent gear changes, and reckless driving, as drivers prioritize instant gains over the risk of detection or accident. Since the ability to commit DUI increases the possibility of accidents, the risk of accidents is high at any time. If an unexpected situation occurs, it is difficult to deal with it, so one should refrain from driving when he/she is drunk.
In particular, it should be noted that the higher the blood alcohol level is, the higher the risk of drunk driving is, which doubles at 0.06%, six times at 9.1%, and 25 times at 0.15%. DUI is especially riskier than other violations of the law as it is more likely to lead to an accident.
In an experiment of DUI done by YTN Science, after three tests of before and after drinking, the response rate to the stop signal averaged 0.131 seconds before drinking, and 0.328 seconds after drinking, which showed that alcohol slowed the response ability by 2.5 times. Also, the braking distance, which is the distance between applying the brakes and stopping, was 20.5 meters before and 30.1 meters after drinking. That is, the distance was shown to be 1.5 times longer after drinking. Moreover, when the subject drove under the influence of alcohol on a curved road, he drove out of the lane compared to before drinking and knocked down a series of cylinders placed next to each side of the lane. This experiment indicates that although it depends on one’s constitution, just three or four glasses of alcohol can lead to a big, fatal accident.
DUI is repeatedly done by the same people
The rate of habitual DUI drivers rarely decreases. It is found that the period of their second and third violations after their first DUI is getting shorter. According to the Korea Transportation Safety Authority, the reoffending DUI rate in the past three years was 44.2% in 2017, 44.7% in 2018, and 43.7% last year. DUI has a higher recidivism rate even than drugs, which is because many people habitually repeat DUI with the complacent mind of “This much should be okay.”
According to an analysis done by the Road Traffic Authority, it took an average of 650 days for a drunk driver to be caught DUI for the first time since he/she obtained his/her license. However, the cycle was shortened to 546 days for the second DUI to be detected, followed by 420 days and 129 days for third and fourth ones. This means that DUI may be difficult for the first time, but once it is done, it tends to be repeated.
According to Kwak Keum-joo, a professor of the Department of Psychology of Seoul National University, there are two main reasons for habitual DUI: “emotional desensitization” and “low punishment level.” She said that everyone is very afraid of DUI for the first time, but after trying it once, they start to feel “It is not a big deal,” and when they drive under the influence and does not get in any big accidents, they think “I can drive without an accident even if I drink alcohol,” which results in insensitivity to fear. She also added that even if they are caught in a crackdown, they try to drive under the influence again because they think the punishment, such as fines and penalties, is acceptable.
DUI has huge socio-economic impact on the victims
Traffic accidents caused by DUI have profound impact on individuals’ lives. The perpetrator also experiences economic losses; however, the victim appears to be suffering greater physical, economic and social losses. In particular, the victims, who were not responsible for the occurence of the DUI accidents, were found to have suffered damage that was hard to heal, but did not receive enough compensation nor apologies from the perpetrators. While the victims suffer more than the perpetrators, the perpetrators are found to have relatively minor penalties and financial burdens compared to the damage he/she caused.
62% of victims of DUI are suffering from aftereffects. Specifically, in the economic aspect, while the average economic damage level is 18.3 million won, the average economic compensation level is 14.64 million won, which is only 80% of the damage level. In the work-life aspect, one out of five victims quit their jobs or suspended their businesses. Other than these, 8.1% of married people at the time of the accident broke up. When looking at the victim’s experience of receiving apologies from the perpetrator, 37.3% responded that they were not contacted, which shows more than one-third of the victims had never been contacted by the perpetrator. The punishment for the perpetrators marked 72.6% for “fine,” 20.2% for “penal servitude,” 19.9% for “community service,” and 17.1% for “education,” indicating that about 80% of the perpetrators are subject to punishment kinds excluding penal servitude. In addition, in the case of penal servitude, 35.6%, which is more than one-third, are just given probation.
The store has chauffeur service cards to prevent DUI.
/Photography by Eom Hye-rin
The legal system was made to prevent DUI
In Korea, the punishment for DUI is stipulated in the Road Traffic Act based on blood alcohol levels. The standard of the state of intoxication at which anyone is prohibited from driving a motor vehicle is based on blood alcohol level. If the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is more than 0.03%, the driver will receive 100 penalty points and license suspension for 100 days. If it is more than 0.08%, he/she will get a revocation of license. Separately, the drivers are charged with an offense, so the court requests a summary order or progress trial. In some cases, the police requires the court to enforce summary justice and charge a fine.
From December 18th, 2018, when the First Yoon Chang-ho Act came into force, if a driver inflicts an injury to someone while DUI, he/she will be sentenced to imprisonment for more than one year and less than 15 years, or fined more than 10 million won and less than 30 million won. This is an upgraded statutory punishment compared to the past when imprisonment for less than 10 years or a fine of between five million and 30 million won was imposed. In the case of a death occurring due to DUI, the driver’s punishment was greatly strengthened from imprisonment for more than one year to more than three years or life imprisonment. In addition, the criteria for license suspension was strengthened from more than 0.05% to more than 0.03% of the blood alcohol level, and the criteria for revocation of a license were also strengthened from more than 0.1% to more than 0.08%.
In the situation where the rate of recidivism for DUI is not declining despite the enforcement of the Yoon Chang-ho Act, many people continue pointing out that Korea’s standard of punishment for DUI should be strengthened. Many foreign countries have stricter punishment standards for DUI than in Korea. In France, the licenses of habitual offenders of DUI must be revoked and unconditionally punished more severely than that of first offenders. In the state of California, the records of DUI are kept for 10 years, and if habitual offenders are convicted, they will be punished not only by aggravated punishment, but also by confiscation of vehicles and installation of a locking device on their vehicle. In the state of Washington, if a person brings about an incident of death, the driver is convicted of first-degree murder, and the maximum penalty they can be sentenced to is life imprisonment. Lastly, Australia announces the names of people caught DUI in newspapers, and Japan punishes not only the driver but also the person who provided the alcohol.
Many people have tried to root out DUI
Since June 2019, the Second Yoon Chang-ho Act, which strengthened the standards for drinking control, was enforced, but it did not show a significant effect in reducing DUI. Recently, Kim Hoe-jae, a member of Deobooleoh Democratic Party, proposed the revision of the Road Traffic Act that permanently prevents acquisition of a driver’s license if it is canceled more than three times or suspended more than five times due to DUI. That is aimed at supplementing the loophole of being able to get a driver’s license after one to five years, even if it is canceled because of DUI. Noh Woong-rae, a member of the same party, suggested an amendment that requires the installation of a “Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID)” on vehicles of drivers who committed DUI. The BAIID is a device that prevents starting the engine if the blood alcohol level is high by blowing into breathalyzer. In addition, Ha Tae-keung, a member of the People Power Party, proposed a revision that punishes the driver’s companion according to suspicions of abetting DUI if he/she does not dissuade the driver.
In particular, effective measures for habitual DUI are urgently needed. Lim Chae-hong, a senior professional at Samsung Traffic Safety Research Institute, said, “Due to the alcohol addiction, there are limitations on preventing DUI by simply raising the level of punishment. Therefore, it should be mandatory for the drivers to complete an education program to escape from addiction when they regain their driver’s license. This program should not just be an education about ‘Do not DUI,’ but a more professional education which trained doctors are participated in.” He also emphasized, “It is necessary to consider making BAIID mandatory for people who drive after drinking habitually.”
Several companies and organizations are conducting public interest campaigns to root out DUI. A typical example of the recent public service campaign is the “Smart Pledge Campaign for No Drunk Driving” conducted by the Road Traffic Authority and Oriental Brewery Company. In September 2019, on the first-year anniversary of the Yoon Chang-ho Incident, his friends held a campaign to eradicate DUI in Busan. A change in the perception of DUI is needed in addition to the campaign, and it is necessary to spread awareness that “drinking only one glass is also drinking.” Also, the driver must have self-control, keeping in mind how dangerous it is to drive under the influence.
In order to root out DUI, which causes enormous damage to individuals’ lives and society, the system should be reorganized from the beginning stage of driving so that DUI does not become a habit. In addition, stricter standards need to be applied to drivers of business vehicles that affect the safety of many citizens such as taxies. Until now, there have been many innocent victims of DUI, such as the death of Yoon Chang-ho. To prevent such unfortunate incidents from happening again, the government should strengthen economic sanctions and punishments corresponding to the offenders’ crime and continue to crack down under the zero-tolerance for DUI. Kim Ye-won, a junior of the Department of Management Information System, said, “Every time I encountered cases of innocent people dying and being harmed by DUI accidents, I thought such cases were so miserable. Personally, I think the biggest and most important issue to pay attention to is the existence of victims rather than the criminal act of DUI itself.” She also added, “If improvements are made in legal and social aspects, DUI will be reduced and, in conclusion, there will be no innocent victims anymore.”
Kwon Min-jeong, Eom Hye-rin firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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