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Lithuania: can alcolocks be a panacea to reckless booze-driven behaviour?

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius for BNN

A horrible accident in which a 24-old girl sitting in a taxi was killed last weekend in Vilnius, when a rented City Bee car being driven by a DUI driver rammed into the cab, prompted a wave of new debates whether Lithuania, having waged war against alcohol-related maladies, ought to proceed with a law requiring to install ignition interlock devices in rental cars. And maybe not only in them. Such alcolocks, systems that require the driver to blow into a breathalyser fitted inside their car, are still a rarity in Lithuanian vehicles. Alcolocks can be adjusted to kick in at different limits but generally mean the vehicle can only be started if no alcohol is detected. Only a handful school buses and brand new city buses have them installed.

In the wake of the tragedy, Rokas Masiulis, the Lithuanian Minister of Transportation, has come out assertively in support of having alcolocks installed in all rental cars.

«I am heartened to learn that City Bee is testing them. As far as the Ministry is concerned, we are working on a set of legislative amendments that would gradually pave way for their mandatory installation in a wide range of cars,» Masiulis was quoted as saying after a meeting with heads of the car-sharing companies «City Bee» and «Spark.»

The minister also emphasised that the Ministry is ready to proceed or hasten enactment of other measures tackling DUI driving.

However, it may be easier said than done, as some of the ideas, like, say, making the names of DUI drivers accessible to the public, may run counter the strict personal data protection laws.

«We will need to do a lot to clear the legislative road of such hurdles. We will appeal with the request to the Ministry of Justice and see what can be done about it immediately. Safety on the roads is our priority,» the minister noted.

He, however, agreed that the approach has to be comprehensive and involving all respective parties.

«I reckon that the devices we are planning to install in cars have to vary, depending on the purpose of their use,»- he added.

Skvernelis, however, believes that it should be left to car rental companies to decide whether or not to install the so-called alcolocks that prevent a vehicle from being started if the driver is drunk.

«Anyone who chooses to drive under the influence of alcohol can cause the same tragic accidents by driving both a rental car or a car borrowed from a friend or acquaintance. This is definitely not a panacea,» he said on LRT Radio on Tuesday morning.

To tackle alcohol-related road fatalities, the Ministry of Health together with the Drug, Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department are drawing up a rehabilitation program for drivers who have been arrested while drunk driving and offenders will participate in the program on a voluntary basis. The prepared draft legislation was scheduled for consideration in April, but has stalled in the legislative chambers.

After the working group’s approval, amendments would be coordinated with the authorities and submitted for consideration to the Government and Parliament.

If Lithuania proceeds with a legislation enforcing use of breathalysers in cars, it would perhaps serve as a poster child for other European nations.

Yet it is evident that, with the traffic accident fatalities number growing in the entire European Union, the bloc is poised to back the introduction of a radical new measure to prevent drivers starting their car engine while drunk, in a bid to reduce alcohol-related deaths on Europe’s roads.

The EU is being urged to legislate for their wide-scale use by the European Committee of the Regions, an advisory body made up of local and regional politicians that has a consultative role in EU policymaking.

The roll-out of alcolocks is being pushed as part of recommendations for the EU to establish a new alcohol strategy and to improve labelling, increase efforts to protect children and target binge-drinking.

So-called alcolocks have received backing from an influential group inside Brussels, with the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union both also said to be supportive of strict new alcohol rules.

Parts of Eastern Europe, and especially the Baltics, have some of the highest alcohol consumption rates in the world and up to a quarter of all road deaths on the continent are linked to drink driving.

In fact, until now, Lithuanians were on top of the list until recently, according to 2016 data presented by a World Health Organization. Lithuania’s alcohol consumption in 2016 had reached 16 liters per capita.

«This is the newest calculations, which make it (Lithuania) the top drinker in Europe, including the top drinker in the world,» Gauden Galea, director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Life-course at WHO/Europe, has said last year.

«Drink-driving is a serious problem in Lithuania, and various steps are being taken to prevent and stop those tendencies. But it seems that all effort is going to waste as people’s mentality has not changed enough to understand that one mustn’t get behind the wheel while drunk. One of the measures we need to discuss is the installation of alcolocks in rented cars,»  Masiulis, the minister, told the Lithuanian Radio following the Saturday tragedy.

Referring to Skvernelis‘ proposal to make inebriated drivers‘ names public, he said the Ministry has to look at the legal consequences of such a decision.

«But we must seek new ways (to prevent drunk-driving), because penalties alone seem to be insufficient, even though one can end up in jail,» he underscored.

Meanwhile, the car industry representatives are quite sceptical on the authorities’ spunk to rein in road accidents through the mandatory introduction of alcolocks in rental cars and public transportation vehicles.

«Having a gadget integrated in the car won’t change the habits we are notorious for as a nation. Unfortunately, Lithuanians do not often know the word «enough» when it comes to booze consuming,»  Vitoldas Milius, head of  a car seller and editor of an auto magazine, told BNN. «Said that, I have to add that any measure that helps to reduce the number of road fatalities is worth attention.»

Raimundas Abramas, a car repair business owner in Palanga in western Lithuania, said that the «idea of breathalysers» in some of the vehicles is «good», but cautioned that the alcolocks are not tampering-proof.

«We need to educate our people, not to punish. Most of the alcolocks can be outsmarted. We just won’t see a situation soon where the device is smarter than the human,» the businessman emphasised to BNN.


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  1. Zerry says:

    Well, there are larger scale mental problems generally among Lithuanian drivers, even without alcohol. That should be talked about, ant NOT to ask consultation from Polsnd whete traffic looks like searching for fast suicide.

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