The ban on driving under the influence of alcohol must be more vigilantly enforced to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents. People who drive under the influence of alcohol are said to be nine times more likely to be involved in a deadly accident than sober drivers.

Although the number of traffic accidents involving intoxicated drivers has fallen greatly in the past decade, it is still unacceptably high. In 2011, there were 5,029 alcohol-related accidents, down from 25,400 in 2001. Symbolic of just how tough it is to stamp out the deadly habit, on Sept. 22, the day after the start of the 10-day autumn nationwide traffic safety campaign, an Akita prefectural policeman was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

The Fukuoka prefectural government is trying to reduce incidents of drunk driving through a newly enacted by-law that combines medical checks with education. A 2006 accident in Fukuoka City in which a drunk driver struck another car from behind, causing three young children to drown, deepened awareness of the danger of drunk driving in Fukuoka Prefecture. Under the Fukuoka prefectural by-law, which went into effect on Sept. 21 — the start of the traffic safety campaign — people caught driving under the influence of alcohol will receive a written request to undergo a medical check to determine whether he or she is dependent on alcohol. Drivers who fail to comply and are caught again within five years will be required to undergo the check within 60 days. Noncompliance will result in a fine of ¥50,000 or less.

A driver diagnosed as suffering from alcohol dependence will be required to receive special treatment at a hospital and to submit a progresss report on breaking the addiction. A key point of the by-law is that if arrested drivers are found to have no dependence, they must attend programs to rectify their behavior in relation to alcohol.

The by-law preamble states that it is presumed that about a half of those arrested on suspicion of drunken driving are recidivists and that many are suspected of being addicted to alcohol. According to a 2009 study by the National Police Agency, 57.6 percent of arrested drunk drivers were second offenders. A remarkable thing about the by-law is that it includes not only punishment but also educational programs to help people break their dependence on alcohol. As the by-law notes, solely imposing strict punishment — heavier fines or longer imprisonment — on those caught driving under the influence of alcohol will not solve the problem. Substantive efforts to treat and rehabilitate alcoholic drivers are critical to ending this scourge on our roads.

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