RIGA - The number of road accidents caused by drunk drivers has dropped significantly in the first half of this year as compared with 2005, the State Police reported.
There were 417 road accidents involving at least one drunk driver registered in Latvia between January and June, down by 347 accidents from the first six months of 2005, police records show.
"This is a great achievement," Chief of Road Police Edmunds Zivtins said in an interview with LNT television on Sept. 4.
In addition, the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers fell to 21 in the first half of 2006, down by 23 deaths year-on-year. The number of injuries decreased by half.
Stricter regulations implemented last October have helped keep drunk drivers off the road.
About 2,000 offenders have already served their arrest terms for driving while under the influence since the legislation was implemented, Zivtins said. "This, of course, is a very high number, but is 50 percent lower than in 2005," the chief told LNT.
Traffic deaths have long been a cause for public discussion, as Latvia's roads have been among the most dangerous in Europe per capita for years.
The bloodshed peaked in 2004, with a record number of 380 fatalities in the first 9 months of the year and the tragic death of BrainStorm band member "Mumins" in April.
Fortunately, the appalling statistics galvanized Latvia's government to begin working on new legislation against drunk driving and to increase police presence on state highways.
Under new amendments to the state's Criminal Law, which came into effect on Oct. 14, 2005, law enforcement has the right to seize and impound cars of drunk drivers and those driving without a license.
What's more, intoxicated drivers face maximum penalties of up to two years in prison, seizure of their automobile, and a fine of up to 50 months' minimum wages. People caught driving repeatedly without a license or drivers who have earned several traffic penalties face similar charges.
Within the first three days of the legislation, nearly 100 drivers were detained. Approximately 50 cars were impounded, and 71 drivers went on to face charges of drunk driving. Most of the incidents occurred in Riga.
At the time, former Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons was quoted as saying, "No slack will be given to any level of police officers, and if anyone can't do the job they are given, their suitability for the post will be considered."
Road fatalities also plague Estonia and Lithuania. As recently as Aug. 18, the Estonian government appealed for drivers to tie black ribbons on their vehicles to draw attention to the nation's mounting road toll. The Baltic state has recorded 97 deaths so far this year.