On December 19, 2013, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, signed law 1969 of 2013 approved by Congress (hereinafter “the Law”), which increases the fines and provides stricter penalties for driving under the influence.

The main modifications made by this new law concern the penalties established in the Colombian Penal Code and the administrative sanctions of the National Traffic Code. The new law modified Article 110 of the Penal Code; in the case of injuries or murder while driving under influence of alcohol, the penalty will increase by two-thirds and, therefore, the driver can face between 2.5 and 18 years of prison.

With the newly adopted sanctions, Colombia now has the toughest penalties in the continent, which are as follows:

First offense: the driver's license is suspended between one to ten years; the driver has to pay a fine from 90 to 720 minimum daily wages (approx. USD $941 to 7,530); serve from 20 to 50 hours of community service; and the vehicle will be confiscated from 1 to 10 days.

Second offense: the driver's license is suspended between one year up to the definitive cancelation; the driver has to pay a fine from 135 to 1.080 minimum daily wages (approx. USD $1,411 to 11,295); serve from 20 to 80 hours of community service; and the vehicle will be confiscated from 1 to 20 days.

Third offense: the driver's license is suspended between three years up to the definitive cancelation; the driver has to pay a fine from 180 to 1.440 minimum daily wages (approx. USD $1,882 to 15,060); serve from 30 to 90 hours of community service; and the car will be confiscated from 3 to 20 days.

The sanctions will be applied according to the alcohol level registered. The four levels are:

  1. Level 0: between 20 and 39 milligrams of ethanol for every 100 millimeters.
  2. Level 1: between 40 and 99 milligrams of ethanol for every 100 millimeters.
  3. Level 2: between 1.00 and 1.49 milligrams of ethanol for every 100 millimeters.
  4. Level 3: 1.50 or higher.

If the driver tries to escape or refuses to take the physical or medical test, he/she will be punished with the highest sanction.

This measure has its supporters and its critics. For example, the Senator Juan Lozano, one of the promoters of this law Bill stated that although bodies assimilate alcohol differently the principle is that whoever dinks alcohol cannot drive.

On the other hand, experts in criminal law and civil liability law, disagree with certain factors of the law considering that (i) it goes against the criminal law principles, (ii) it solely focuses on the perpetrator and not the victim, (iii) the government should manage this problem by educating the driver so that the driver by showing the harm he/she can cause and not due to the fear of punishment.