BEIJING - Drunken driving and street racing are stipulated as crimes in a draft amendment to China's Criminal Law, as part of the country's efforts to make its roads safer.
The move was proposed on Monday in a draft amendment, which was under the first reading by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.
Convicted drunken drivers may face forced labor while in detention for one to six months and be fined, even if their actions cause no accident, according to the draft law.
Currently, drunken drivers are detained for 15 days, according to the Law on Road Traffic Safety.
Drunken driving and street racing have been heavily criticized by the public.
The amendment is a response to increased calls for more severe punishments of dangerous driving on Chinese roads, officials said.
In 2009, Chinese traffic police caught 313,000 drunken drivers.
Professor Zhao Bingzhi with Beijing Normal University said traffic accident crimes as stipulated in the Criminal Law are inadequate and ineffective in stopping drivers from racing or driving under influence of alcohol.
"The traffic accident criminal law only punishes those who have already caused an accident, which might involve deaths or serious injuries, or major losses of public or private property," Zhao said.
"Drunken driving and racing are extremely dangerous so we can't wait for the accident to happen and then punish the perpetrator," he added.
Cheng Bin, an attorney with the Beijing Guandao Law Firm, said including drunken driving and street racing crimes into the law will prevent traffic accidents and better protect drivers and passengers.
The draft amendment also proposes heavier penalties for forcing others to labor.
Those convicted of forcing others to labor may face penalties of up to seven years of imprisonment instead of only three years, according to the draft.
The draft amendment states that those who force work on others through violence, coercion or the restriction of personal freedom will be subject to a maximum of seven years of imprisonment, in addition to fines.
The current Criminal Law imposes a maximum of three years in prison for the crime.
Several forced labor scandals have come to the light in China in recent years.
In May 2009, police in eastern Anhui province arrested 10 for allegedly beating and forcing 32 mentally-handicapped people to work in brick kilns in slave-like conditions.
Another forced-labor scandal made headlines in 2007. A brick-kiln boss in northern China's Shanxi province was found to have forced 1,340 people to labor, 367 of whom were mentally handicapped.
Liu Mingxiang, deputy dean at the Renmin University of China's Law School, said: "It was severe abuse in those notorious 'black brick kilns.'"
The draft amendment designates the acts of the "go-betweens" as criminal, too, Liu noted.
"If the draft amendment becomes law, the frequency of forced labor in China will drop, as the law will not only penalizes those who force people to labor but also those who facilitate such practices," he said.