Tougher penalties for drunk driving and restrict sales of alcohol

The COVID-19 era has taught us how strict restrictions on alcohol are necessary in addressing various risks of infection and these restrictions have successfully reduced cases related to intoxicated individuals.

IT is heartbreaking that today, on the second night of Syawal, 27th May 2020, we learnt of a report where a drunken motorist drove against traffic flow at Jalan Pintasan Kuantan before his vehicle collided with another car, instantly killing its driver, Irwan Herman Kamarudin a 41-year-old doting father and husband, a dedicated employee who was on his way to work.

He died at the scene from serious head and chest injuries.

On the 3rd of May 2020, in the month of Ramadhan, a 44-year-old motorist under the influence of alcohol rammed his vehicle into a policeman manning a Movement Control Order (MCO) roadblock.

The four-wheel drive rammed into Corporal Safwan Muhammad Ismail killing him instantly.

Two men at the prime of their life shouldering multiple responsibilities, killed senselessly by consumers of alcohol.

We can only empathize but will never truly understand the sorrow of their families, much less the difficult road ahead for them without their loved one.

During MCO period itself, we have witnessed other similar cases.

On April 5th 2020, a man under the influence of alcohol broke a roadblock in Bintulu. Five days later, an elderly man driving under the influence of alcohol crashed into a police car on another road block at the Petaling Jaya Toll Plaza.

On April 24th, two men were arrested by the police for violating the MCO, one of them found to be drunk, at Sungai Pari.

Another policeman was reportedly rammed by a four-wheel drive vehicle driven by a drunken man while on duty in a road block at the South Kajang Toll Plaza.

In fact, in January this year alone, 158 people were arrested for drunk driving according to the Kuala Lumpur Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department (JSPT).

Alcohol is often described as part of a culture. The fact is, alcohol is a poisonous substance which has short and long term effects on every organ in our body.

The World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet on alcohol confirms that there is ‘no safe level’ for alcoholic beverages and that every time someone consumes it, the risk of organ damage is increased.

Alcohol also weakens the immune system making it easier for a person to get infections.

Alcohol also increases the risk of Acute Respiratory Syndrome (ARDS), one of the worst complications of COVID-19.

In response to a circulating myth that alcohol kills the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 by disinfecting the air inhaled through mouth and throat, the WHO had to issue a response stating otherwise.

This serious myth is responsible for the deaths of 700 people in Iran who were killed by ingesting toxic methanol.

Other myths suggested that alcoholic beverages boost the body's immune system and resistance to viruses which are patently false.

In fact, the truth is the opposite: alcohol weakens the immune system of our body causing us to become immunocompromised.

In 2016, the University of Washington Medical School reported that there were three million deaths worldwide related to alcohol.

Their study concluded that there is no safe level for those who drink alcohol, that is, there is no minimum safe amount for consumption recommended by health professionals.

In South Africa, police and health authorities have estimated that alcohol usually accounts for 40 percent of cases involving emergency department admissions.

Due to COVID-19, South Africa recently enforced a ban on the sale and distribution of alcohol concurrent with enforcing curfew.

Prior to the ban in sales and distribution order, the country saw 34,000 cases of alcohol-related trauma (fights, drunken driving, domestic violence) each week.

After the enforcement of the order, it was reduced by two-thirds with only 12,000 reported cases a week.

The South African Medical Research Council said the change was significant and warned that the revocation of the ban would lead to increased cases of COVID-19 trauma and infections as it would be difficult to maintain social distancing amongst those who were intoxicated.

The evidence around us is overwhelming against the consumption of alcohol. Every year we hear of cases of innocent deaths inflicted upon by drunk driving.

The time is long overdue to enforce stricter policies and laws on alcohol. A country like Brunei, which prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol publicly, should be emulated immediately.

The Royal Brunei Customs and Excise Department imposes a law where a non-Muslim may carry only two standard bottles of wine and 12 small cans within 48 hours.

By law, our Section 44 (1) of the Road Transport Act 1987 provides for individuals driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs and causing death or injury punishable by imprisonment of 3 to 10 years and a fine of not less than RM8,000 and not more than RM20,000.

These existing penalties are woefully inadequate to deter careless and dangerous behavior of drunkards.

Even a country like Taiwan, after having faced too much of this menace, has recently drafted the death sentence for any drunken driver whose actions result in death.

The pain and suffering of the families of the victims of drunk driving is unimaginable.

The COVID-19 era has taught us how strict restrictions on alcohol are necessary in addressing various risks of infection and these restrictions have successfully reduced cases related to intoxicated individuals.

Post-COVID-19 we should make the policy of control and prohibition on alcohol a new normal.

These steps are beneficial to every single human being regardless of race and religion.

* Associate Professor Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar is a President The International Women's Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ).

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.