Police, drunk drivers and cabbies: an unholy alliance

opinion March 21, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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The surrogate-driver scam is another depressing example of how traffic laws are being flouted in Thailand

Some people will find it amusing, others will be dismayed. But, no matter how you look at it, the news that drunk drivers are hiring cab drivers to guide their cars through police checkpoints demonstrates a crisis in Thai law enforcement.
Elsewhere, in both developed and developing nations, local communities and law enforcers work together to crack down on crime. And that includes alcohol-related crime. 
In various communities in the United States, for example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – a network whose acronym tells the full story – often teams up with police to track down drunk drivers and help identify establishments that sell alcohol to minors.
Meanwhile many countries have adopted public campaigns that encourage people to take a taxi home after a night out drinking, rather than drive themselves. The “designated driver” convention, in which one person in a group abstains for the night, is also firmly established elsewhere. 
But in Thailand, cab drivers – some of them, anyway – offer their services to drunk drivers who want to avoid taking a breathalyser test at the next police checkpoint. These cabbies park their taxis 200 or 300 metres ahead of the checkpoints and wait for clients. 
Once he has ferried the drunk driver and passengers past the checkpoint, the temporary chauffeur gets out, walks back to his car and waits for another inebriated driver in need of aid.
The Metropolitan Police Bureau is examining traffic law to see whether taxi drivers who offer such a service can be punished. Since these drivers aren’t drunk, it’s not immediately obvious how police can punish them. 
Presumably there would only be legal grounds for prosecution if the police actually caught the drunk driver and the cabbie in the act of making the deal. The police could then claim the cab driver was knowingly permitting the drunk driver to take control of a motor vehicle and should therefore bear some of the responsibility.
But that would require a great deal of legwork, and Thailand’s finest are not exactly famous for that. 
The lack of creative thinking about how to combat drunk driving reflects poorly on our police. 
Instead of looking for ways to arrest the cab drivers, perhaps police should cooperate with them – in the same manner that their overseas counterparts work with mothers who are angry about drunk driving. 
This is easier said than done, however. There is a long history of bad blood between the two parties over alleged extortion of cabbies by police. Taxi drivers are easy prey because they carry small-denomination banknotes that leave no money trail. Moreover, many drivers take up this poorly paid job because they don’t have the “connections” to get a better one. And with no “connections”, Thailand’s finest don’t have to worry about retribution.
But not al the burden should be carried by the police. There is no reason why citizens can’t organise an organisation here like MADD to combat drunk driving. In a way, all of us are to blame for this predicament. As the old saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.