TALLINN - In an effort to curb drunk driving, National Police Commissioner Raivo Aeg has proposed a controversial solution: abolishing "happy hour" in Tallinn bars. Because incidents of drunk driving are on the rise, Aeg said, the sale of cheap drinks should be stopped immediately.
"According to statistics, drunk driving has become a more serious problem. So the alcohol policy must be stricter," the police chief was quoted as saying by his spokesman. Aeg also proposed banning late-night alcohol sales and promotional beverage tasting in shops. In 2001, officers caught 11,729 drunk drivers, 1,261 of whom were repeat offenders. The number has since jumped to 12,406 drunk drivers and 3,494 repeat offenders. Bar managers have passed the social responsibility back to police, saying Aeg should increase the number of roadside breathalyzer tests instead of targeting alcohol sales.
But Aeg claims the proposal is not an option: "Police simply cannot manage anymore roadside alcohol tests."
The comment stirred public debate about roadside alcohol checks. Estonian newspapers have been filled with public opinion on the subject, with some decrying the crackdown as an invasion of personal liberties. John McGregor, the manager of several nightspots in Tallinn's Old Town including the well-known bar Nimega, said few of his customers drive themselves home.
"I disagree with the police commissioner. Most people who come out to drink take public transport or taxis," McGregor said. "There should be more police on the roads checking drivers. You hardly ever see a police car stopping to pull people over. If they're not checking, then the whole argument about alcohol sales becomes a moot point."
On May 22, police published more statistics showing the high number of accidents caused by drunk drivers. In 2002, a total of 494 crashes, 68 deaths and 795 injuries were attributed to alcohol. The figures dipped slightly in 2003 and 2004. By 2005, police said the number of accidents had risen again to 437, with 45 deaths and 637 people injured as a result of drunk driving.
At the same time, the regularity of roadside operations has increased, from 1,331 patrols in 2004 to 1,798 last year. Of those tested, roughly 1 percent were driving under the influence of alcohol.
The official responsible for alcohol sales, Internal Affairs Minister Kalle Laanet, has called for the establishment of a working group to consider Aeg's suggestions. "My position is that it is difficult to change the situation only with orders and bans," Laanet said. "Therefore, I propose to establish working groups with the purpose of clarifying how to legally bring down alcohol consumption and drunken driving." In October, the government's Crime Prevention Council will also discuss implementing measures to fight excessive alcohol consumption.