Presidium Backs Drunk-Driving Bill

Itar-TassA medical worker taking a breath sample from a driver with the help of a Breathalyser at Detoxification Clinic No. 17.
In an effort to curb mayhem on the country's roads, the Presidium on Monday approved a bill that would stiffen punishments for drunk drivers who cause accidents.

The bill, presented Monday by Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, would increase the maximum penalty for drunk drivers responsible for the death of two or more people to nine years in prison, up from seven years under the current Criminal Code.

The maximum punishment for drunk drivers who cause the death of one person would be increased to seven years -- up from five years -- while a drunk driver responsible for injuring a person would face up to three years in prison, Nurgaliyev told reporters.

"I believe this decision has been long overdue," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told the meeting in remarks shown on national television.

More than 11,700 people have died in some 90,600 road accidents from January to June of this year, Nurgaliyev said Monday, Interfax reported. Another 111,500 were injured in road accidents during the same period, he said.

One in every 14 of those accidents was caused by a drunk driver, Nurgaliyev said.

There were more than 700 road accidents on Sunday alone, resulting in the deaths of 122 people -- including five children -- Putin told the meeting Monday. A total of 924 people were injured in Sunday's road accidents, including 84 children, said Putin, who as president called road deaths an "irreplaceable loss" given the country's demographic woes.

Nurgaliyev said the amendment was aimed at establishing an aggravated factor for drunk drivers who face criminal charges. The Criminal Code currently makes no distinction between drunk and sober drivers who cause road accidents.

Drivers' rights advocates supported the bill, which must be passed in the State Duma and the Federation Council before being sent to the president to be signed into law.

"It's illogical and unfair when criminal liability for road accidents is completely the same for a sober and drunk driver," said Vyacheslav Lysakov, head of the Free Choice Motorists' Movement.

Lysakov described drunk driving as "our national scourge."

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov pledged deputies' support for the bill. "A 'don't drink and drive' principle should be reflected in the Criminal Code," he said in comments released by the Duma.

The new bill comes just weeks after the end of Russia's zero-tolerance policy concerning alcohol in a driver's bloodstream. Under a law that came into effect July 1, the maximum legal blood-alcohol level for drivers increased from zero to 0.3 grams per liter of blood -- roughly equal to a glass of wine, a half-liter of beer or 50 grams of vodka for a man weighing 80 kilograms.

Lysakov warned that many drivers have interpreted the new law as a carte blanche to drink and drive.