Police investigating movements of drunk driver who killed girl in Helsinki
Minister of Transport says that the use of ignition interlock devices could be expanded on a fast-track schedule
On Wednesday, the Helsinki Police Department launched a preliminary investigation into the death of the 11-year-girl who was run over and killed by a drunk driver in Helsinki’s district of Herttoniemi on Tuesday evening.
The 25-year-old man fled the scene of the accident and was later found at his workplace in the industrial area of Herttoniemi.
The heavily intoxicated driver had a valid driving licence and at least two previous convictions for drunk driving. However, his licence was not currently revoked, since some time had passed since the earlier cases.
The hit-and-run occurred on Viikintie in Herttoniemi, where the speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour between Siilitie and Viilaritie, rising to 60 km/h towards Viikki, as the road runs through open fields.
At the moment, there are no traffic lights in the open area, which is why a fair number of drivers tend to speed on that road section.
The hit-and-run incident that occurred on Tuesday was exceptional in Finnish circumstances, as usually drunk drivers kill either themselves or their passengers, says Anna-Liisa Tarvainen, Managing Director of the Central Organisation for Traffic Safety in Finland (Liikenneturva).
In 2010, just four completely innocent victims died at the hands of a drunken driver, and in 2009 the figure was six.
Tuesday's incident is being investigated as aggravated negligent manslaughter, aggravated endangering of traffic safety, and as aggravated drunk driving.
Investigators are seeking information on the movements of the car in question between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Viikki and Herttoniemi areas. The car is a light-coloured Mazda 626 saloon, first registered in 1997.
The police are asking anyone who can give information about the incident to call them during office hours on 071 877 4435.
A total of around 300 people die in traffic accidents in Finland every year, while at the same time, more than 9,000 are injured. One-fifth of these fatalities have been caused by drunk drivers, which is equal to about 60 to 70 people annually.
An ignition interlock device or breath alcohol ignition interlock device (IID and BAIID), installed to a motor vehicle’s dashboard, would go some way towards preventing intoxicated persons from driving.
One problem is that in the most grievous cases - very often repeat-offenders with a long list of convictions - the driver may not be in his or her own car (indeed the vehicle may even be stolen), and may not have a valid licence to drive. Hence the IIDs would in practice need to be installed in all vehicles to achieve completely watertight protection.
In an interview with the television channel Nelonen’s news programme Nelosen Uutiset on Wednesday, Minister of Transport Merja Kyllönen (Left Alliance) said that the hit-and-run in Herttoniemi could lead to the expansion of the use of ignition interlock devices, as the increasing number of drunk driving cases sends a clear message to decision-makers.
The use of these devices as part of DUI sanctions is currently rather rare in Finland, but the Ministry of Transport and Communications has set up two working groups tasked with looking into recommendations to expand the use of IIDs in the country.
One of the groups has been examining whether or not an IID should always be offered as an alternative to a driving ban already to first-time offenders. The working group is to hand over its report to the Minister of Transport within the next few weeks.
Kyllönen said to Nelonen that in practice, an amendment to legislation could be brought to the decision table on a fast-track schedule.
Currently, an ignition interlock device is being used only by about 760 persons who have been convicted of drunk driving. On an annual basis, about 22,000 persons are found guilty of drunken driving.
The other working group set by the Ministry is considering the introduction of an IID and its potential impacts on duties which require professional competence, including those of bus and taxi drivers.
The amendment would apply to about 80,000 to 100,000 professional drivers, who are required to demonstrate a competent driving standard, says Senior Adviser Kimmo Kiiski from the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
Last August, Minister Kyllönen demanded that IIDs should be exempt from taxes.
In addition, she suggested that the legal limit for DUI should be dropped from 0.5 per mille to 0.2 per mille.
The matter has made no progress, as Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson (Swedish People’s Party) has not taken it further.
The use of an IID has been mandatory in all school and daycare transportations since August 2011.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Hit-and-run drunk driver kills 11-year-old girl in Helsinki (4.1.2012)
Nearly 70% would reduce blood-alcohol threshold for drink-driving cases (15.9.2010)
Working group: Ignition lock to be compulsory in vehicles used by young drivers right after first DUI offence (4.6.2010)
Liikenneturva, Central Organisation for Traffic Safety
Ministry of Transport and Communications