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Drunk driver gets death in novel verdict
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Sun Weiming faces a court in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Thursday, for killing four people while driving under the influence of liquor. The court sentenced him to death. [Xu Xian] 

Judges and law enforcement officials have sent clear signals through recent court verdicts and proposed new regulations that drunk drivers can expect harsher punishment.

At the same time as an unlicensed drunk driver who killed four people and injured one last year in Sichuan province was handed a death sentence on Thursday, transport regulators in the city of Nanjing were proposing to permanently revoke drunk drivers' licenses if they cause traffic accidents.

Sun Weiming, a 30-year-old company executive in Chengdu, Sichuan province, was found guilty of endangering public safety and sentenced to death by the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court.

He is thought to be China's first drunk driver to be charged with "endangering public safety" and sentenced to death.

Sun drove his Buick into four oncoming sedans on Dec 14. Tests after the pile-up showed he had 135.8 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. A person is considered a drunk driver at 80 milligrams.

Investigation revealed Sun had been driving without a license since May 2008.

The Chengdu Intermediate People's Court said he was convicted of "endangering public safety" instead of a "traffic offense" - a lesser charge that usually carries a three-year jail term - because he had been intentional in his behavior.

Sun said he planned to appeal to a higher court.

Wu Dong, a Shanghai-based lawyer, said China's criminal code does not clearly define the difference between a simple "traffic offense" and "endangering public safety", something that may lead to flexible interpretations and dent public confidence in the legal system.

A few days ago, a drag racer in the eastern city of Hangzhou, whose speeding car killed a pedestrian, received a three-year sentence after he was charged with a traffic offense.

Earlier this month, another drunk driver in Henan province was charged with a traffic offense and sentenced to six and a half years after killing six people and injuring seven.

Zhang Mingbao, who killed five pedestrians, including a pregnant woman, in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on June 30 while driving drunk, is under arrest and about to go before the courts.

Wu said it is time for the highest court to develop explicit standards detailing the difference between the two charges.

The increase in high-profile alcohol-related accidents recently has triggered calls for harsher penalties.

In Sichuan, two lawyers recently suggested that drunk driving should be added to the list of crimes covered by China's criminal law.

In Nanjing, authorities have even come up with a draft traffic law that allows for licenses of drunk drivers to be revoked, if they cause traffic accidents.

"People tend to believe they won't get into traffic accidents after drinking, and as first-generation drivers in China, it seems they haven't developed enough respect for traffic rules," Wu said.

Road accidents are one of the main causes of death in China. In the first six months the year, 29,866 people died on the roads, despite a 10.5 percent drop year-on-year.

(China Daily July 25, 2009)

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