Traffic tomorrow: beer allowed?

  • 2000-11-23
  • Andrei Titov
TALLINN – Estonian parliamentarians stood by safe driving as they discussed the country's traffic law amendments during the last two weeks. Deputies introduced a motion to forbid using mobile telephones when driving and to change drunk driving laws.

The new law will be discussed in Parliament in early December, and, if adopted, will be in effect from Jan. 1, 2001.

The acting law says the driver must have less than 0.2 per mille of alcohol in blood and mobile phones are not even considered.

"Thirty seven members of Parliament voted against and 24 supported passing the amendment of 0.5 per mille on Nov. 14. At the same time they agreed to forbid using telephones without hands-free system (when driving) and to limit engine's warming-up in residence areas to two minutes," said Parliament's spokesman.

"Deputies also supported a suggestion to raise maximum allowed speed to 120 kilometers per hour on highways and to 90 km/h in settlement areas depending on road and car conditions," he added.

Most mobile phones have a hands-free system option. The system costs from 150 to 500 kroons ($8 to 27).

Parliament also discussed buying devices, like breathalizers, that could define drunkenness more precisely. According to Anti Liiv, a member of the Center Party, those will help determine various degrees of alcohol intoxication.

Two bottles of light beer or two shots of strong alcohol produce 0.2-0.49 per mille of alcohol for an 80-kilogram person. However, the intoxication depends on weight and common health conditions.

"With 0.5 per mille nobody can drive, but 0.2 to 0.49 is a normal condition. The point is that our police has no proper equipment to find out the exact degree," said Liiv. The police now use devices that indicate only three degrees of driver's condition, namely "absolutely sober," light or heavy alcohol intoxication, without any details on the amount of alcohol in blood.

An adviser with the Road Administration, Hellat Rumvolt, said purchase of new devices will cost from six million to seven million kroons ($330,000 to 385,000).

The Road Administration has a special information-analysis department that is studying traffic accident statistics. Nowadays there are 379 cars per thousand people in Estonia. About 1,500 traffic accidents happen annually, and last year the number was 1,472. It is 25 percent less than 10 years ago. Taking into account the quantity of cars has been increasing, that is not too much, according to the department. But at the same time the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers is constantly rising.

"Every year from 70 to 100 people die in drunk-driving related road accidents. During its raids the police usually determine 33 percent of drivers are drunk. Those drivers are guilty of one-third of all traffic accidents," said Sirje Lilleorg, head of the department.

She added that a drunk woman at the wheel is rarity. "But if a woman in drunk condition drives a car, something will always happen."

In Lithuania, it is not yet prohibited to use a mobile phone when driving. "Our laws allow having 0.39 per mille of alcohol in driver's blood," said Lithuanian MP Virginijus Martisauskas.

In Latvia, it is illegal to drive and talk on a mobile telephone simultaneously. The maximum acceptable level of alcohol in driver's blood is 0.5 per mille.