Companies make money by taking inebriated revelers back home safely
BEIJING - Following the country's decision to impose tougher penalties on drunken drivers starting in May, drinkers who have enjoyed an evening's roistering have become more willing to hire a driver to take them and their cars home.
He Jin, general manager of the Beijing-based Ben'ao Anda Automobile Driving Service Co, said that before May his employer received about 100 calls for service a day. That number now runs to more than 140.
"The increase in our business is partly the result of tougher penalties for drunken driving," he told China Daily on Monday. "And the public has become more willing to accept these driving services."
About 160 drivers work for He's employer, most of them part-time. They are called on to fetch the car of a person who has been drinking and to drive that person home.
Hence, the best candidates for the jobs are Beijing residents who have at least eight years of driving experience, He said.
According to the newly amended Road Traffic Safety Law, which took effect on May 1, drivers caught with 20 mg or more of alcohol in their bodies for every 100 ml of blood will see their licenses revoked and will be prohibited from applying for new licenses for five years.
In addition, drivers with more than 80 mg of alcohol in their bodies for every 100 ml of blood will be held in detention from one to six months and will be fined as much as 2,000 yuan ($300), according to the amended Criminal Law.
Under the previous regulation, drunken drivers had to pay fines of up to 500 yuan and had to wait from three to six months before they could apply for new driver's licenses.
From May 1 to May 15, the weeks following the adoption of the stricter drunken-driving law, the number of drunken driving cases in Beijing decreased by 82 percent from what had been in the same period a year ago, according to official figures.
Driving services are likewise becoming more popular in other places. In Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang province, the number of service providers has gone from 23 last year to 119 now, local media reported.
Residents attest to the need for the service. In Beijing, Xiao Zhe said he drives to nightclubs almost every weekend and drinks while he is there.
"Sometimes I call my friends to drive my car and send me home," he said. "But more often I ask driving service companies to do the job. It's very convenient and many people around me are hiring these services."
About 500 companies sell driving services in Beijing.
To obtain them, customers often must provide information about their cars, the driver's insurance they have, their destination, their departure time and the route they want to take home. The cost of the service varies according to how far a customer wants to go and how late he wants to start.
He's employer, for example, charges 100 yuan for driving 30 km before 10 pm and 180 yuan for going the same distance after midnight.
The strong demand for the services has led many drivers to go into business for themselves. Industry insiders estimate there are no fewer independent drivers than there are drivers employed by service companies.
Su Ning, a vehicle mechanic in Ji'nan, East China's Shandong province, said he sometimes waits at nightclubs or restaurants after work to see if someone wants to pay for a ride home.
"I charge around 50 yuan for the service and I can serve about five customers each week," he said.
"The industry is still in its infancy and is in disorder," a manager surnamed Lu, with the Beijing Hongruizhi Automobile Technology Service Co, said over the phone.
"What if a self-employed driver runs away from an accident that occurred while he was driving," Lu said. "There is nothing that can prove a deal has been reached between him and the customer."
Lu, noting that no government department is charged with supervising driver services, said unfettered competition will not be good for the fledgling industry.
He Li, a lawyer with the Beijing-based Yingke Law Firm, said an industrial association would be a better regulator than the government.
(China Daily 05/24/2011 page5)