A hit-and-run drunk driver killed an 11-year-old girl in Helsinki three days ago.
The story itself is familiar- though less common than what people think - from previous cases: man is drunk, goes driving, does gross DUI. Hits a girl at a zebra crossing on a dark evening, panics, drives away leaving the girl to die, feels bad, tells someone, goes to his workplace, drinks more, and gets arrested when the police find him.
Now, people are furious. This is pretty understandable, because the man's action was deplorable. I listened to the radio the following morning:
"They should lock him up for the REST OF HIS LIFE!"
"Drink drivers should NEVER get their license back!"
"Alco-lock must be made COMPULSORY in all cars!"
"The legal limit for drink driving must be made lower! ZERO!"
"Speed limits must be lowered!"
"This must never happen again! Anything must be done to prevent another case like this!"
And so on.
I'm very sorry for the girl and her family. I'm even a little bit frightened: I don't drive under influence, but accidents can happen, and if I had an accident - perfectly sober - the reaction could still be something similar.
What happened was dreadful. But these responses are silly. What troubles me is the knee-jerk reactions, populism and cynical exploitation of a dead child. This may result in bad legislation and unwise decisions.
They should lock him up for the rest of his life!
In Finland, it is generally recognized that harsh punishment does not prevent crime. We don't have the death penalty, and even for pre-meditated murder - the most severe of crimes - the standard jail term is around 14 years. Why should DUI be more harshly punished than e.g. intentionally stabbing someone?
Yes, this man, who had a history of many drink driving offences, drove under influence and hit a small girl. But as far as we know, he didn't intend to kill the girl. It was an accident. He did take a risk that should be considered reckless behaviour. What made it worse was that after the accident, he drove away and left the girl to die. He should not have panicked, he should have stopped there, he should have tried to help the girl, he should have called an ambulance. He did not. This was bad, but it was far short of pre-meditated murder. In mitigating factors, it seems he had a troubled past but was now actually working, and had a clean record for long enough time to get his driving license back. In my opinion, he should get something that is close to the maximum penalty for gross unintentional homicide, which is six years, plus some additional time for the DUI. For that, because he is a "first-timer" (meaning he has not been inside during the past three years), he would do maybe 2 years in prison.
Now, in my opinion that is a ridiculously short sentence for what he did, but it is in line with other sentences given in this country. He should get justice, not more, not less, and this is what is considered justice in Finland. The system in this country believes that putting criminals in prison does not help. Why would we think that drink drivers are somehow more responsive to harsh punishment? I would think to the contrary.
There seems to be some kind of an emotional reaction that goes with certain kinds of crime - drink driving and sex crimes come to mind - but it's really very illogical. These are the kinds of crime where the criminal probably does less risk analysis before the act concerning the possible punishment if he is caught. I mean, who would do DUI if you were sober? If we were logical, we would rather first make the sentences tougher for crimes where there is more risk analysis beforehand, such as economic crimes, burglaries, the all-so-common organized bicycle theft racket, metal theft, drug trade, human trafficking and so on.
Driving under influence is bad but it is not that dangerous. Drink drivers kill about five outside victims each year. About 30 000 drink drivers are convicted per annum. How many are actually driving under influence? A conservative estimate is that the chances of getting caught are 1 to 200 (though it could be 1 to 2000). So, with this conservative estimate, there would be 6 million drink driving cases in a year, 30 000 caught, five people killed. It means that a drink driver's probability of actually killing someone is in the order of 1 ppm (part per million).
Really. A chance of one in a million. It's not a lot. It's not something that we should approve, but when you think of it, it is actually extremely rare that a drink driver kills someone. (It is slightly more common that a drink driver kills him- or herself, or other people travelling with him or her. This we could call poetic justice.)
Drink drivers should NEVER get their license back!
For any other types of crimes, you don't have punishment for the rest of your life. Even "life in prison" is institutionalized with a process so that it actually means about 14 years in prison, perhaps less you behave well, and even notorious criminals like Juha Valjakkala will be released eventually despite constant escape attempts. There's always a term of some kind.
It would be extraordinary and an unusual punishment to ban driving for all life. Still, for repeat gross offenders, I wouldn't consider it too harsh to really make the loss of driving license permanent.
But this helps very little. You see, very many drink drivers don't have a license anyway. The one who killed the 11-year-old did, but this I would consider exceptional (and as a sentencing factor not against him). Pretty much every day you can read news about some reckless guy who runs away from the police at dangerous speeds, with five times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. Most of the time, the guy does not have a driving license in the first place.
So what does it help to take away the license? You don't need a license to be able to drive. What would help? Perhaps amputation of the hands. But I have a better idea: mandatory antabus for those who have a severe alcohol problem.
Alco-lock must be made compulsory in all cars!
Another knee-jerk reaction. Whether the alco-locks work to stop drink drivers is dubious. What is certain is that there is a cost that would be carried by all drivers for the installation of device to all cars, and it is not small: in the order of 1000 € per car. No one else is going to pay for this. It won't be a factory-installed feature; Finland is just a too small market for that.
It would of course be very convenient for the state, because this mandatory gadget could only be installed by "official" importers, so it would act as a deterrent against the importing of used cars to Finland. The cozy relationship of "official" car importers and ministries would no longer be disturbed by those pests, citizens.
The state already takes about six times as much money from car owners than it puts into maintaining traffic infrastructure. The Finnish state is well-known to resort to illegal practices to extort tax money from drivers in the import taxes. This is well-planned fraud, by the government. The cost of alco-locks would be on top of this, and it would be out of proportion considering how much it would really have any impact on road safety (we are talking about something like a thousand million euros, which would save many more lives if used better; drink drivers kill around five people each year in Finland, and a billion euros, if used on road safety, would save perhaps ten times as many).
A more significant impact of the alco-lock would be that your car doesn't start on a cold morning when you are supposed to go to work. They are known to malfunction, particularly in our climate. Perhaps not an issue if you get to work in a minister's limo, but for the rest of us this is an issue.
The legal limit for drink driving must be made lower!
Another illogical move. Our hit-and-run driver was already above the legal limit for gross DUI. With a lower limit, it would still be gross DUI, except that with the lower limit you would also convict people who are not really drunk. 0.02 % BAC does not impact the ability to drive a car. The driving ability may actually improve with blood alcohol content until 0.02 % or so. The driver performance only starts to weaken at 0.05 %, which is why the current limit is good.
Ministers also say that because DUI cases are increasing, the limit must be tightened. But why are the cases increasing? Two factors:
The so-called moped-cars have become more common, and under-18-year-olds drive them - and get caught. They are not supposed to get any alcohol from anywhere in the first place, so why go for the limit, when you actually should do something to the problem that minors drink?
Other drugs than alcohol are an increasing reason for DUI convictions. Now, lowering the alcohol limit when the actual drug is amphetamine or other illegal drugs is silly.
Speed limits must be lowered!
More illogical proposals. Our killer driver was probably not just drunk but also exceeding the existing speed limit. A lower limit would not have stopped him. The very next day, there was a guy running away from the police at 170 km/h. He did not care about the speed limit, and he would not have cared about a lower speed limit. He was also gross DUI. He also did not have a license. He was also under influence of illegal drugs. That's about five different severe breaches of law in one go, and a different speed limit would have made absolutely no difference.
What lowering the speed limits would do is make people more annoyed with the limits and lead us to think that it is okay to break the limits because they are not reasonable. The respect of law would be diminished, and that would be the main impact.
This must never happen again! Anything must be done to prevent another case like this!
It will happen again. People do get killed in traffic. If not hit by a car, then hit by a bus or a train or a kick-sled or just slip, fall, hit head on the ground. Humans err. What we can do is make the possibility of error smaller, make the traffic environment safer. The speed limits are already mostly low enough, or even too low. The drink driving limit is already at the right place, the BAC level where driver performance starts to be impacted negatively.
Having the alco-lock in cars of past offenders might be reasonable, as a part of the punishment. Stronger sentences would be good not only for drink drivers but all sorts of intentional, violent or economic crime. Especially multiple offenders who show no respect for any laws at all should be dealt with (like the 170 km/h police-runaway person mentioned above).
But we can't make the world a place where everything is perfectly safe. If we try, we'll just create a dystopia, a bad place to live.
Government ministers don't seem to care what really works and what does not. They'll be perfectly happy to exploit the public fury in order to get more government control, squeeze some more money from car owners, and shine up their public image. Cynical.