Friday, 15 July 2011

Dial-a-chauffeur demand pops as China jails drunken drivers



Beijing Ben Ao An Da Automobile Driving Service Co., which hires out stand-in chauffeurs, expects to boost sales by about 60 percent this year after the government amended the law on May 1 to hand out prison sentences for drunken driving. 

Demand is coming from car owners like Jack Wang , who uses substitute drivers about once a week after business dinners. 

"Drinking with clients is part of my work," said Wang, 36, a salesman for a telecommunications company in Beijing. 

"A lot of business has to be done over dinner and alcohol, but no one I know is willing to take the chance now to drive after drinks." China, which overtook the U.S. in auto sales in 2009, is cracking down on drunken driving as vehicle ownership tripled in the last five years. 

The number of traffic accidents rose 36 percent to 3.9 million cases in 2010, resulting in one death every nine minutes, according to the Ministry of Public Security . Last year, police caught 526,000 drunk drivers, a 68 percent increase from a year earlier. 

More than half of the road fatalities in China were caused by inebriated motorists, according to the ministry. China may have 150 million vehicles on its roads by 2015, which is 65 percent more than last year, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. 

The market for alcohol is estimated to expand 39 percent to 53 million liters in the same period, according to Londonbased researcher Euromonitor International Plc. BYD Co., the Chinese automaker part-owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Ford Motor Co. said they haven't seen any impact of the tougher rules on car sales. 

General Motors Co. , the biggest overseas automaker in the country, said it supports programs that raise safety awareness. China implemented its first road safety traffic law in May 2004, making it mandatory for motorcyclists to use helmets and drivers and front-seat passengers to use seatbelts. 

With the amendment this year, those caught operating a vehicle with blood-alcohol content exceeding 80 milligrams per 100 milliliters - equivalent to three beers - face prison terms of up to six months and a five-year driving ban. 

Previously, they may be detained for up to 15 days and have their licenses impounded for three to six months. The harsher punishments have come in part after several drink-driving cases sparked public outrage. 

Hiring substitute drivers in the Chinese capital also became more popular after Beijing doubled parking charges to 10 yuan per hour since April 1 as part of measures to curb traffic in the central areas. Car owners may pay more to leave their vehicles and take a cab home than if they used a stand-in driver.

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