Alcohol takes its toll on midsummer drivers

  • 2000-07-06
  • By Elina Cerpa

There were 185 road accidents registered in Latvia over the midsummer
holidays with 25 fatalities and 108 injured. Alnis Jirgens, head of
Traffic Police Department calls the holidays Bloody Midsummer.
Elina Cerpa reports.

Switching on national

TV a few days before the Latvian national holiday Ligo, June 23-25,
most forward thinking journalists were feverishly leading programs
with main idea to save the nation from excess alcohol consumption
over the holiday period. TV and police warnings were ignored and
unfortunately the facts show that nothing can prevent people from
drinking. Policemen detained 344 people for driving while intoxicated
from June 23 to 25. The highest percentage of drunk drivers - every
other one - were upheld in Cesis District, while in Latgale region,
every driver who pulled over was intoxicated.

Who is guilty for such a huge number of accidents? Policemen
confessed that this year too few police were stationed on roads. In
total on June 23, 298 police officers operated throughout Latvia, on
June 24 - 308, but on June 25, only 248.

As many peoples' lives have become more stable, there are more cars,
and each year the midsummer holidays are celebrated more widely.

This year's fatalities surpassed the number in previous years by far.
In 1998 five people died in two days during the midsummer holidays
and in 1999, six people.

Road police have sized up the situation and found that more than half
the accidents entail young drivers with less than two years' driving
experience or drivers who don't have a driver's license at all.

"Mainly young people between the age of 16 and 25 died and the
accidents were caused mainly by alcohol abuse," said highway patrol
officer Martins Vabulis, in a LETA report.

According to the data presented by Narcology Center in Latvia,the
number of underage people diagnosed as alcoholics has risen. The
center's outpatients include 22 youth alcoholics, but 394 required to
report after being found drunk behind the steering wheel. These are
only registered statistics, but there are still many people who have
not been listed. Latvia is the only country in Europe where no one is
in charge of new drivers after they receive a license, said Alnis
Jirgens, head of traffic police. Many European countries have worked
out a system that allows highway police to keep an eye on young

In Latvia one who has been punished for driving drunk or stoned can
drive a car again after serving one's time.

Up to now, the highway traffic safety department and the road police
have suggested in discussions with Juris Reksna in the state police
officethat the legal limit for blood alcohol be lowered from 0.5
grams per liter to 0.2 grams per liter.

So far, these discussions have not resulted in the adoption of new regulations.

It turns out that swimming can also be dangerous and lethal for some
during Midsummer holidays, especially if alcohol is a factor. Six
young people under 30 have been drowned in Riga and Riga's region.
Only three have been found while rescue services are still searching
waters for the remainder. A group who reported an accident in
Linezers were so drunk they were unable to show the direction where
their friend was swimming, according to a LETA report.

Prime Minister Andris Berzins said that the attitudes toward drunk
driving must be changed, according to a report from news service LETA.

"The tragic statistics of the midsummer holidays confirms the
catastrophic attitude of drivers in Latvia toward their own and other
people's lives, and the large number of accidents points to the
necessity of changing attitudes toward driving while intoxicated. The
need for a penalty system and educating drivers is also clear," he

What can be done to change attitudes?

In Riga from June 26-July 2 the Latvian School Children's Song and
Dance Festival took place. Highway police found seven drunk bus
drivers behind the wheels of busses carrying children to the festive
events. Blood tests on two drivers showed alcohol content over the
0.5 gram per liter legal limit. Policemen checked about 80 drivers on
the bridge near Daugava Stadium. Five other drivers with their busses
parked at the stadium were to be examined after the event.