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China: Harsher Punishments for Driving After Drinking

(May 10, 2011) The Law of the People's Republic of China on Road Traffic Safety (hereinafter Traffic Safety Law) was amended on April 22, 2011, providing harsher punishments for driving after drinking alcohol. The revised Law took effect on May 1, 2011. (Traffic Safety Law [in Chinese], The National People's Congress (NPC) of the People's Republic of China official website (Apr. 23, 2011).)

This follows a recent amendment to the Criminal Law. The Eighth Amendment to the Criminal Law for the first time criminalizes driving while intoxicated. (Amendment to the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China (8) [in Chinese] (Feb. 25, 2011), NPC website.) The Criminal Law amendment took effect on the same day the revised Traffic Safety Law became effective. The Traffic Safety Law provides punishments for both “driving while intoxicated” and “driving after drinking alcohol,” which are determined on the basis of the driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) level. Under the current national standard, BAC equal to or above 0.08% constitutes “driving while intoxicated”; BAC equal to or above 0.02% but under 0.08% is deemed “driving after drinking alcohol.” (Cheliang Jiashi Renyuan Xueye, Huqi Jiujing Hanliang Yuzhi yu Jianyan [Thresholds and Tests of Vehicle Drivers' Blood/Breath Alcohol Level] [in Chinese] (last visited May 9, 2011).)

Previously, the punishments for anyone driving after drinking alcohol were a fine of from RMB200 (about US$31) to RMB500 (about US$77) and a one-to-three-month driving license suspension. The new rules raise the fine to RMB1,000-2,000, with a six-month license suspension. (Traffic Safety Law, art. 91.)

For driving while intoxicated, the previous Law had provided for detention of up to 15 days, a three-to-six-month license suspension, and a RMB500-2,000 fine. Because driving while intoxicated has become a criminal offense, the new Traffic Safety Law replaces that prescription of detention and fine with the language “subject to criminal responsibilities.” The license of the drunk driver will be revoked, and it cannot be re-obtained for five years. For driving after drinking alcohol or driving while intoxicated that causes a major accident and therefore constitutes a criminal offense, in addition to being subject to criminal punishment, the driver will lose his driver's license for the rest of his life. (Id.)