Turkish police have stepped up a battle against drunk driving, touching off charges of harassment and the resort to garlic and onions by drinkers to avoid detection.
Since launching the campaign in August, police say the number of arrests has tripled and accidents caused by drunk driving have dropped by 40%. Traffic accidents claim 8,000 lives a year in Turkey.
Offenders usually face an all-night stay in a police station until they come before a judge in the morning. The usual penalty is a fine equivalent to about $40 maximum--a considerable sum in a country where the annual per capita income is $1,000.
They also risk 15 days to two months in prison, but the jail term is generally commuted to another fine of up to $30.
The campaign has drawn complaints that drivers who had a little wine with dinner or a brandy for a cold were being treated the same as those unable to walk a straight line.
"Intoxication and one glass of liquor are two different things," columnist Yilmaz Cetiner wrote in the newspaper Milliyet.
No Legal Definition
There is no legal definition of intoxication in Turkey and a finding of drunkeness is up to the policeman.
Police in Istanbul and other large cities take breath tests but they often consider the evidence of intoxication enough if the needle shows anything above zero. In other cities, they merely smell the breath of the drivers and judge by general appearance.
A police official, interviewed during a recent evening patrol, conceded that the testing devices can sometimes be wrong. But he said he believes that anyone whose breath smells of alcohol or his appearance indicates intoxication should be taken in.
"We want to keep drunks off the road because they are the ones who often cause serious accidents, and this is the only way to do it," said the official, who agreed to the interview on condition of anonymity.