Mandatory jail time for drunk driving: Minister

The Minister of Police and Prison Services, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has called for drunk drivers to face mandatory jail sentences following a spate of fatal crashes this festive season.  

The change to measure was proposed by Tialavea in an interview with the Samoa Observer in response to recent fatal accidents in the fortnight leading up to Christmas. 

“When [a driver] is under the influence and takes the wheel, they put everyone at risk: the pedestrians and people on the main highway for the holiday rush-hour,” the Minister said. 

“Too many lives have been lost because of drunk drivers and reckless drivers throughout the year.”

The Minister’s call follows a number of fatal crashes on the nation’s roads over the holiday period that were attributed to a combination of alcohol and reckless driving. 

“We have increased our roadblock operations with the hopes that it will minimise this [...] mindset that drunk driving is ok; putting people's lives at risk is never ok,” he said. 

He said the Ministry is looking at ways to raise the penalty for getting behind the wheel while inebriated in order to serve as a deterrent to drivers around the country. 

“Apparently current penalties are not really working in terms of dissuasion and therefore mandatory jail time will surely get everyone’s attention,” he said. 

“The Government is not mucking around when it comes to the safety of our people.”

The Minister made reference to recent fatal traffic accidents including at Fasito’outa and Siusega.

A father’s life was claimed at Siusega at the four-corner intersection near the Farmer Joe supermarket after a delivery truck collided with a small car, killing the driver. Investigations into the incident are ongoing. 

Meanwhile, the day prior a crash along the Fasitoo-uta access road evening claimed the lives of two men, one in his ‘60s and another younger passenger. Alcohol is understood to have been a factor in the incident. 

“Where is the sense of responsibility? People [who] consume alcohol should drink responsibly,” the Minister said. 

“They are being selfish and reckless by drinking too much alcohol and then getting behind the wheel. 

“This will change because we are not having any of this recklessness.”

The current penalty for drunk driving is up to five years according to provisions under the Crimes Act. 

“Mandatory jail time will certainly serve as [better] deterrence in such cases,” Tialavea said.   

Another traffic crash earlier in the month involving a Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.)-owned vehicle was also believed to have been connected to alcohol. 

The driver of the Ministry’s vehicle is reportedly in a coma at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole National Hospital in Moto’otua. 

The crash occurred in Tuanaimato in the early hours of the morning last Saturday.

The Commissioner suggested that restrictions on the sale of liquor could be another method of limiting the damage of alcohol on the nation’s roads. 

“I have also pitched to the Liquor Board ways to limit the sale and the availability of alcohol, especially during this season. Students were also found under the influence of alcohol,” he said. 


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