By Joel Alas
TALLINN - Serious drunk driving is set to become a criminal offense after Justice Minister Rein Lang announced a crackdown on the practice that continues to claim lives on Estonian roads.
Lang said those caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 or higher would be punished under the criminal code.
“In the case of a blood alcohol level of 0.15, one can no longer speak of alcohol residue or carelessness,” Lang told the newspaper Postimees.
“A blood alcohol level of that rank clearly shows that the person had knowingly sat behind the wheel when intoxicated.”
Currently, drunk drivers can only be tried under criminal charges if they are repeat offenders. All others are classified as misdemeanor offenses, under which drivers are normally punished with a fine.
But days after the ministers announced the impending changes, drivers showed no concern.
A police crackdown on traffic offenses on the weekend of July 20-22 netted almost 700 drivers. Of those, 56 were caught driving under the influence of alcohol, 164 were caught speeding, and 11 had to be taken into custody due to their drunken state.
At the same time, newspapers criticized police for not acting fast enough to mete out punishment to Tallinn City Mayor and Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar.
Savisaar was caught driving 51 kilometers per hour over the speed limit along a road in the Laane-Viru county on July 10.
While other drivers are served with misdemeanor notices speedily, Savisaar has yet to be processed, leading some to suggest he had received special treatment. A police spokeswoman acknowledged that many other drivers have their punishment fixed very quickly, but said Savisaar would know the final decision by Aug. 27.