China cracks down on drunk drivers
China is counting on the threat of prison to keep drunk drivers off the roads, and dial-a-chauffeur services are reaping the benefits.
Beijing Ben Ao An Da Automobile Driving Service Co., which hires out chauffeurs, expects to boost sales 60 percent this year after the government amended the law on May 1 to hand out prison sentences for drunk driving. Demand is coming from car owners such as Jack Wang, who uses substitute drivers about once a week after business dinners.
"Drinking with clients is part of my work," said Wang, 36, a salesman for a telecommunications company in Beijing. "A lot of business has to be done over dinner and alcohol, but no one I know is willing to take the chance now to drive after drinks."
China, which overtook the United States in auto sales in 2009, is cracking down on drunk driving as vehicle ownership tripled in the past five years. The number of traffic accidents rose 36 percent to 3.9 million cases in 2010, resulting in one death every nine minutes, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
Last year, police caught 526,000 drunken drivers, a 68 percent increase from a year earlier. More than half of the road fatalities in China were caused by inebriated motorists, according to the ministry.
China may have 150 million vehicles on its roads by 2015, 65 percent more than last year, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The market for alcohol is estimated to expand 39 percent to 53 million liters in the same period, according to London-based researcher Euromonitor International PLC.
BYD, Ford, GM
Automakers such as BYD Co. and Ford Motor Co. said they haven't seen any effect of the tougher rules on car sales. General Motors Co. said it supports programs that raise safety awareness.
China implemented its first road safety traffic law in 2004, making it mandatory for motorcyclists to use helmets and drivers and front-seat passengers to use seat belts.
With the amendment this year, those caught operating a vehicle with blood-alcohol content exceeding 80 milligrams per 100 milliliters --equivalent to three beers -- face prison terms of up to six months and a five-year driving ban.
Previously, they were detained for as many as 15 days and had their licenses impounded for three to six months.
The harsher punishments have come in part after several drunk driving cases sparked public outrage.
In May 2010, Chen Jia, 31, fled the scene after running a red light and crashing his black Infiniti sedan into a Fiat and a bus. The collision killed a 35-year-old man and his 6-year-old daughter and injured another two.
Chen, a dancer, admitted he was drunk and was sentenced to life in prison. He also agreed to pay 3.7 million yuan ($566,000) in compensation to the family of the victims.
Gao Xiaosong, 42, a judge on the popular "China's Got Talent" TV contest, became the most high-profile motorist to be punished under the new law.
The musician was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 4,000 yuan after causing a four-car pileup in the Chinese capital that injured four people. He was found to have drunk three times the legal limit for alcohol.
Business negotiations in China are often conducted over meals and alcohol, and "baijiu," the fiery sorghum-based spirit is served at occasions from state banquets to family reunions.
"Drinking is an inseparable part of social activities in China and can be traced back into ancient history," said Li Fangxiao, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law. "Administrative measures have proved to be ineffective in curbing drunk driving. Criminalizing it is the ultimate measure."
Ji Yifeng, the owner of Beijing Ruiyu Xingchen Driving Service Corp., said he has had to turn away some bookings since the tougher rules took effect and boosted demand for his pool of 30 drivers.
Traffic police manned roadblocks in Beijing and Shanghai in the weeks after the tougher penalties were implemented and administered tests for selected drivers.
The number of motorists caught driving after consuming alcohol fell 81 percent in May to 1,024, of whom 89 were found to be legally drunk, according to the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau.