More checks but fewer drink-driving penalties

Fewer drivers were charged for drink-driving last year than in 2009, it has been announced.The federal interior ministry, which is in charge of Austria’s police units, said today (Fri) that 37,519 drunken drivers were fined or reported to prosecutors in 2010. The ministry said that more than 41,100 drivers were caught breaching the Austrian legal drink-driving limit in 2009.The interior ministry claimed the declining figures were confirming the success of various awareness campaigns. It also stressed that traffic police carried out more breathalyser checks in 2010 (1.03 million) than in 2009 when around 850,000 drivers were tested.The most recent anti drink-driving campaign was presented by Social Democratic (SPÖ) Infrastructure Minister Doris Bures in March. The initiative sparked mixed reactions from the public and traffic safety experts since it used graphic images of injured children.Initiators of the campaign were also attacked for asking three-time Formula One (F1) champion Niki Lauda to spearhead the “Alkohol am Steuer. Können Sie damit leben?” (Drink-driving? Can you cope with the consequences?) initiative which featured various posters and TV ads.Critics claimed it was the wrong decision to get a former car-racing ace to head the promotion measures of such a campaign considering that especially young people adore Lauda for his risky driving attitude in F1 events.They felt confirmed when Lauda, 61, admitted violating drink-driving laws only a few weeks after the awareness campaign was presented. He told German newspaper Bild: “I drove after drinking something a few times 20 years ago. You don’t think about the dangers when you are younger.”The disputed quote followed his official statement published as part of the anti drink-drive initiative in his homeland which quoted him as saying: “I want to raise awareness that drink-driving isn’t a trivial offence, but something that endangers your own life and the lives of others.”The initiative featured images such as one of a drunken driver kneeling over a boy he has just run over. Some newspapers branded the style of the campaign as “shocking and repulsive”.Figures presented by the Austrian interior ministry today also show that around 4.16 million speeding offences were recorded in 2010, up by 0.6 per cent compared to the previous year.The ministry added that around 128,000 motorists were fined for making phone calls behind the wheel without using hands-free equipments in 2010.The licence plates of more than 17,800 lorries and buses were confiscated last year to keep the drivers from continuing their journeys due to severe technical errors discovered by the police.The ministry announced last month that 548 people were killed in traffic accidents in Austria in 2010. It pointed out that this was the lowest figure ever recorded since the registration of fatalities was started in 1950.