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Editorial: penalties no panacea

COMMENT PRINT ARTICLE
PHOTO: legaljuice.com

These past years, Estonia has been shaken by tragic traffic accidents with casualties and caused by drunken drivers. Thankfully, over a decade the yearly death toll is down from 81 in 2007 to 14 last year. And yet, many may have been avoided.

Another matter how to cut the numbers of drunks on our roads. Justice ministry is intending to ratchet up the punishments.

Indeed, this corresponds to expectations in society. But that’ll be all as experience in lots of lands has shown the enhanced punishments to be rather toothless.

Often, people just do not believe that anything bad could happen to them. Therefore, they are unafraid of the theoretical consequences of what they do until it comes upon them.

In the UK, the toughening of the law in 1967 with 0.8 pro mille driving criminalised, traffic deaths only diminished during the first year.

In longer perspective, they increased as the drivers discovered the likelihood of getting caught was not what it first felt like.

As for the penalising of passengers driven by drunks, this would be a global milestone (though applied in some states of the USA).

While it’s morally right to prevent tipsy people from driving or notifying thereof the law & order, the criminalisation of not doing so is questionable. Especially if execution promises to be problematic.

Fines and penalties are no panacea while surveillance and adequate punishments are vital. To change human behaviour, the central issue is reshaping attitudes. Which points to angles like other preventive measures.

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