TAIPEI: Taiwan plans to ramp up punishments for those who cause a fatal accident while drunk driving, including the death penalty for the most egregious cases, sparking an outcry from abolition and rights groups.
The cabinet on Thursday approved a draft amendment to the Criminal Code that would make death by drunk driving an indictable murder offence, potentially punishable by death if the deed is deemed “intentional”, officials said.
The proposal needs parliamentary approval but comes after a spate of high profile deaths that have generated widespread outrage.
Currently the maximum sentence in Taiwan for causing a death while drunk behind the wheel is 10 years.
The new proposal would increase jail sentences for repeat offenders who commit a new offence within five years of their first conviction.
They face up to a life sentence for causing a death and 12 years for grave injuries.
“Cases of drunk driving leading to death are rampant … drink drivers recklessly caused accidents that took lives and destroyed families to result in irreparable regret,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
In one notorious case in January, a 40-year-old man crashed his van into a taxi while driving intoxicated, killing three people and injuring three others including himself.
Very few countries employ the death penalty for drunk driving cases.
China has previously vowed to execute those who have killed behind the wheel and some states in the United States retain capital punishment for such cases.
In 2014 a Texas man was indicted on “capital murder” after he ploughed his car into a crowd killing four people.
But in the end prosecutors did not seek the death penalty and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Several rights groups on Thursday, including the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, issued a joint statement criticising the proposed amendment and calling for “rational legislation for irrational drunk driving”.
“There is a lack of evidence and research that seeking grave penalties and legislation would truly prevent drunk driving,” the statement said.
Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus, despite ongoing calls from local and international rights groups for its abolition.
Various surveys over the years have shown support from the public for keeping the death penalty.
Taiwan executed a man who murdered his ex-wife and their daughter last September, the first execution carried out under President Tsai Ing-wen’s government that took office in 2016.