MOSCOW, June 26 (Itar-Tass) - Russia’s eighteen-month-long battle over whether some content of alcohol can be permitted in the driver’s blood, and what that content may be like has drawn to a close. The issue has proved of great social importance, because many drivers were stripped of their driving licenses for having the slightest presence of alcohol in blood even though the instrument’s error was the sole factor to blame. Anger in society kept mounting.
Now the minimum permissible level of alcohol in blood is about to be restored to the Code of Administrative Offenses. A motorist will be considered drunk, if the instrument shows the presence of 0.16 milligrams of alcohol in one liter of exhaled air, or 0.35 grams of alcohol in one liter of blood.
The State Duma’s committee for statehood considered a package of amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences enhancing punishment for drivers responsible for violations of traffic rules. The bill - a joint product of the United Russia party and the GIBDD traffic police - was adopted in the first reading last spring. On Tuesday it was decided that by the second reading it will be complemented by a new article, restoring the level of minimum permissible content of alcohol in blood and in exhaled air.
“We are in no mood to permit drunk driving,” said the author of the amendments, Vyacheslav Lysakov. “It is wrong even to say that the amendments restore the minimum permissible readings that we canceled in 2010. We plan to get away from this practice altogether and to introduce only the maximum permissible content of alcohol in breath. This will make allowances for likely instrumental errors and protect drivers with peculiar metabolism from administrative punishment.”
Also, the amendments tighten responsibility for drunk driving. The first such violation will entail driving license suspension for a period of 18 to 24 months and a fine of 30,000 rubles, and a second one, three-year license suspension and a fine of 50,000 rubles. The same punishment will be established for those who refuse to undergo medical examination. At present drunk driving is punishable with license suspension only.
The maximum permissible level of alcohol in drivers’ blood existed in Russia in 2007 through 2010 - 0.3 grams of ethanol per one liter of blood (0.3 promille) or 15 mg per one liter of exhaled air. However, the then president, Dmitry Medvedev, said that motorists often interpreted that rule as an excuse for drinking before driving and initiated the introduction of the zero tolerance limit. Drivers began to be stripped of licenses for any alcohol content. This law is still in effect.
In Moscow and the Moscow Region, according to official statistics, 12% percent of those punished for drunk driving had less than 0.2 promille.
The public at large grew increasingly angry. Fierce debate was raging between the advocates and critics of the zero tolerance limit in the State Duma, inside the presidential staff and in the government for quite a while. Those eager to see the cancelation of the zero content appealed to President Vladimir Putin, who eventually issued an instruction to request the opinion of experts at the federal standards agency Rosstandart as to what necessary error margin should be introduced.
In the end the supporters of restoring the minimum permissible alcohol content, with the backing of the Health Ministry and narcologists, managed to gain the upper hand.
The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic advises the participating countries not to exceed the level of 0.8 promille. This rate is effective in most European countries. It helps distinguish between drunk drivers and those taking some special drugs or having unusual metabolism. Also, the new rule envisages allowances for drunkometer errors. Lastly, as scientists have found, the presence of up to 0.5 mg of alcohol in one liter of blood does not affect the ability to drive.
Most experts have welcomed that decision, but at the same time pointed to its duplicity.
“The amendments that permit the slight presence of alcohol in blood is a triumph of common sense,” the daily Novyie Izvestia quotes the president of the fund No to Drugs and Alcoholism, Oleg Zykov, as saying.
“I had some patients with background levels of alcohol in blood as high as 0.4 promille,” the analyst said. “That is their natural norm. The zero tolerance limit is a huge loophole for corruption in the traffic police force.”
The deputy president of the Russian Motorists’ Movement, Leonid Olshansky, has told the daily Novyie Izvestia the decision is half-baked. “The medical instruction concerning the rules of medical examination must be revised in a fundamental way. Not just the driver’s breath, but a whole combination of factors must be taken into account - the apple of the eye, the smell of the person’s breath, the color of skin, the ability to squat and to walk a straight line should be taken into account, too,” he said.
Olshansky believes that many tests are to be made to ensure the opinion of the driver’s condition be honest and impartial. Drunkometers alone are not good enough, he argues.
“It is a good amendment. It is to be hoped that a normal reading of 0.3 promille will be restored, because even a sober person who has stomach problems will fail to pass a drunkometer test,” says a member of a drivers’ rights protection society, Andrei Filin. “A rate of 0.16 promille is half-normal. But it is better than zero. The boat has begun to be turned in this direction, and this is good.”