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Name and shame policy has no place in free and democratic Taiwan

Drunk driving is abhorrent, but this policy makes us little better than places where human rights are luxuries

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Police crack down on drunk driving. (Tainan City Bureau of Transportation photo)

Police crack down on drunk driving. (Tainan City Bureau of Transportation photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — The Kaohsiung City Government Transportation Bureau on April 28 publicly named and shamed five individuals who had been convicted of repeat drunk driving offenses in the city.

The publication featured the men’s full names, photos, and details of their offenses. The story made some headlines, and then the news cycle rolled on and we were back to talking about COVID-19 again. But this naming and shaming and the law behind it warrant closer examination.

The publication was made possible by an amendment to Article 35 of the Road Traffic Management and Penalty Act (道路交通管理處罰條例), which was passed by the Legislative Yuan in January. It permits transportation bureaus across the country to publish details of repeat DUI offenders along with empowering them to revoke driving licenses and issue harsher fines.

So what? you might be thinking. Drunk driving is an irresponsible crime that can result in the injury and death of innocent people because of the selfish actions of the perpetrator, and they deserve everything they get. Few right-thinking people would disagree with this perspective, but certain aspects of this new law should sit uncomfortably in a free nation like Taiwan.

Anyone who is convicted of drunk driving more than once in a 10-year period can be punished in this way. There are three main problems with this:

  1. Ten years is a very long time, and there are serious questions about whether this is a proportionate response to being caught twice over the course of a decade.
  2. The law fails to take into account the specific nature of the offense. There is a world of difference between someone who is bombing along a main road at 80 kilometers an hour after a skinful and someone who is a fraction over the limit and driving much more sensibly. Yet under this law, both could be treated the same.
  3. There is also the broader question of whether Taiwan believes that publicly naming and shaming individuals in this manner is fitting behavior for a free and democratic society.

Naming and shaming is a punishment regularly used by China and other authoritarian regimes around the globe. Does Taiwan really want to go down this route?

This is not to say that drunk-driving offenders should not be punished. Of course, they should, but the question is how.

The revised law allows transportation bureaus to revoke their driving licenses. Quite rightly so, and for repeat offenders, few would argue with a lifetime driving ban being imposed.

It also allows for increased fines, and as long as the fine is proportionate to the nature of the offense, few would argue with this either. Indeed, for the very worst offenders — certainly those who cause death and severe injury to others — a custodial sentence would be more than justifiable too.

These penalties alone would be harsh enough to act as a deterrent without any need for public shaming, which is, at the very least, debatable on human rights grounds.

There is one other aspect of the issue of drunk driving which is overlooked in the context of this debate and also largely overlooked by Taiwanese society as a whole, and that is the issue of alcoholism in Taiwan.

This is an issue which exists largely in the shadows, in a society where drinking plays a far less high-profile social role than in many other countries. But it is an issue that still has a profound impact on families and individuals, often from the lowest-income backgrounds, up and down the country.

A policy of publicly shaming drunk drivers will only drive the broader and arguably more damaging societal issue further into the shadows when the exact opposite is needed.

The last thing anyone in Taiwan should want is a solution that ends up causing more damage than the initial problem did.