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Tougher sentences for hit-and-run drivers

11:09 11/02/2018

Prison time and fines for a hit-and-run offence have increased under a series of new traffic regulations approved by the federal parliament. The change follows a number of recent high-profile cases in which a driver hit a pedestrian or cyclist and then drove away.

A hit-and-run that injures another driver, a pedestrian or a cyclist now mean a maximum of three years jail time or a fine of €5,000. If the accident leads to the death of the victim, the maximum prison sentence increases to four years.

A driver caught driving without a license, meanwhile, previously only had to pay a fine but now risks up to two years jail time. According to VRT, nearly 17,000 people were caught driving without a valid license in the first half of 2017 alone.

“It appears that fines are not always enough,” police court judge and KU Leuven lecturer Kathleen Stinckens told VRT. The judge is also in favour of the tougher regulation for second offences of driving without insurance, which now means the loss of a licence for three months, up from a previous eight days. “It’s crucial that we give the signal that this will not be tolerated,” she said.

One of the more controversial aspects of the new traffic regulations is the alcohol lock that will now automatically be placed in vehicles of people caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.18% (the legal limit is .05%). The locks will be placed for one to three years for a first offence, at the discretion of the judge.

Do alcohol locks work?

Alcohol locks require the driver to blow into a tube that tests blood alcohol content. Only if the driver is under the legal limit will the car start.

Currently, alcohol locks are placed only at the discretion of a judge, a procedure that Stinckens finds preferable. “An alcohol lock is not the right solution for everyone,” she said. “We try to find the right sanction for each individual.”

Federal minister Kris Peeters, meanwhile, has always been against the alcohol lock as a punishment, preferring to see it promoted as prevention. “It’s a very useful preventative measure, but it’s presented as a punishment,” he told VRT. “That doesn’t make sense.”

He also thinks it’s not very effective in stopping drink driving as the motorists first must be caught with a high blood alcohol content. “You get very few people out of traffic that way, just the rotten apples. But we don’t get any further in a general approach to stopping drink driving.”

Rather, he would like to see alcohol locks become a standard features in all autos sold in Belgium.

The new regulations will come into effect on 1 March, except for the alcohol lock, which starts in July.

Written by Lisa Bradshaw