Argentina, Uruguay Declare Zero-Tolerance War on Drunk Drivers

Uruguay and Argentina are moving toward a complete ban on drunk driving.
Uruguay and Argentina are moving toward a complete ban on drunk driving. (Monitor Sur)

EspañolInitiatives are underway in both Argentina and Uruguay to enact “zero tolerance” bans on driving while under the influence of alcohol.

On April 29, incoming Uruguayan President Tabaré Vásquez announced he would seek to significantly reduce the permissible blood-alcohol level for drivers. Meanwhile, Argentina’s Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo said during a radio interview on April 28 that he intends to send a “Zero Alcohol” bill to Congress.

Vázquez, a 75-year-old oncologist, will sign a presidential decree effective May 15 ordering Uruguayan police to seize the driver’s license of anyone caught operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of 0.1 grams per liter of blood. Current legislation caps the alcohol level at 0.3 g/L, roughly equivalent to one glass of beer or two glasses of wine.

Vázquez attempted to pass similar legislation during his first term as president (2005-2010), but could not secure enough votes in Congress despite his party’s majority. His predecessor, José Mujica, also failed to pass a similar zero-tolerance bill.

Nevertheless, beginning on May 15, Uruguayans caught driving under the influence of alcohol will have their licenses suspended and receive a US$460 fine.

Following his inauguration, Vásquez declared a “war on alcohol” and stressed the need to regulate the liquor market. In an effort to gather congressional support, the president convened a bipartisan group to lead a three-pronged campaign against alcohol abuse: an awareness drive to highlight the dangers of alcohol, the inclusion of preventive programs in education curriculum, and a ban on drunk driving.

“It’s not a decree signed behind the public’s back; it has support [from the people],” said Daniel Radío, a congressman from the opposition Independent Party who came out in favor of the measure.

National Party Senator Verónica Alonso said after a meeting with the president that there are plans to meet with civil society and business leaders within the next 15 days in order to reach a broader consensus on how to further regulate the sale of alcohol.

Argentina Down the Prohibitionist Path

Randazzo, a potential presidential nominee for ruling coalition Front for Victory, is seeking a similar zero-tolerance ban in Argentina. The bill Randazzo introduced on Tuesday would extend the alcohol ban currently in force for professional chauffeurs to “all drivers.”

Randazzo told a local radio station that those who oppose the measure “are putting profits before lives,” adding that the bill has the support of President Cristina Kirchner.

“[The bill] is crucial, because alcohol is among the top five causes of fatal car accidents,” Randazzo argues.

#ZeroAlcohol: “The bill puts common drivers on the same level as professional ones, who today face a zero-tolerance ban [on alcohol].”

“We decided to put private drivers on the same level as professional ones, those who drive trucks and vehicles with passengers. In that sense, we propose that no one who is going to drive should consume alcohol. Zero tolerance. We took it up to the Senate, I heard both chambers, and the truth is that the arguments coming from groups defending businesses make no sense,” the minister explained.

Under current federal law, Argentineans are permitted to drive a car with up to 0.5 grams of alcohol per liter in their blood. Motorcyclists, however, are not allowed to drive with a blood-alcohol concentration more than 0.2 g/L. Only the provinces of Salta and Córdoba have passed zero-tolerance laws on driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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