TALLINN 's Estonia is taking the lead in Baltic efforts to cut down on the scourge of drink driving with plans to introduce tough new laws.
Justice Minister Rein Lang and Interior Minister Juri Pihl decided at a July 18 meeting to initiate a legal amendment by which driving with a blood alcohol level of 15 mg or higher per 100 ml of blood will be an offense punishable under criminal law. The current level is 20mg alcohol per 100ml blood.
The rule will even apply to first-time offenders, the daily Postimees said, closing a current loophole that means they can only be charged with a relatively minor misdemeanor, regardless of their level of intoxication. At the moment drink driving can be treated as a criminal offense only the second time an offender is caught.
"We were unanimous that in the case of a blood alcohol level of 15 mg one can no longer speak of alcohol residue or accidental intoxication," Lang told the newspaper, adding that a blood alcohol level of that rank clearly showed that the person had knowingly sat behind the wheel when intoxicated.
Interior Minister Juri Pihl said that the speed of processing misdemeanor procedures should also be reviewed.
"Right nowâ€¦ the handling of a misdemeanor committed in road traffic may take up to 45 days," the minister told the newspaper. That does not in any way match the principle that an offense must be followed by a punishment as soon as possible, Pihl said.
Pihl added that the stepped-up efforts to improve the situation in road traffic will not involve a major increase in the number of police patrols on the roads.
Instead, police intend to make better use of electronic surveillance, which will be used more extensively from next year.
The drink-drive crackdown is certainly timely, coming in the same week that road death statistics were released showing that 95 people were killed on Estonian roads in the first six months of this year, compared to 72 during the same period last year.
Estonia has adopted a national strategy to bring the number of annual road deaths below 100 by 2015.