"Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Then Drive"

Winner of a Prince Michael International Road Safety Award 2012

Opinion on the proposed Zero limit for Drink Driving


Governments aim to get a balance between minimizing interference in people’s lives, and at the same time protecting their lives on the roads.


It is very sad when many law abiding drivers are penalized for the actions of irresponsible people. That one cannot have 1 unit an hour at the pub and relatively safely, drive home. Not a “drink” an hour, 1unit an hour! 1 drink like a large glass of wine/beer, or large bottle of beer puts you over the legal limit. In South Africa many people do not follow the basic rules of the road; do not have Driving Licenses; go through red robots; and we have cattle and drunk pedestrian wobbling around often pot-holed roads. This is causing absolute road carnage. We are rated about the worst in the world in terms of road fatalities. Every year approximately 20 000 are killed and 150 000 injured, with alcohol abuse being behind about 65% of these incidents. Those are people killed or injured. Not statistics! Loved ones who are missed or incapacitated, through their own fault, or another person’s reckless, bravado driving.


World Health Organization say an alcohol level of <0.05g, as we have at the moment, is "Best Practice" and totally acceptable. Why will a Zero % alcohol limit then work? Our blood alcohol level was lowered from <0.08g to <0.05g, more than 15 years ago, and our death and injury rate has increased since then! If we followed the examples of 1st world countries and implemented our National Road Traffic Act, if the Departments of Transport, Justice, and SAPS worked optimally and saw drink driving as a serious crime that they concentrated on, it would work. So theoretically we should concentrate on enforcement and keeping the level the same. However we score 2/10 for poor enforcement. SADD do not feel our Government Departments have the political will or expertize to enforce, and apply these “Best Practice” rules of the road.


Therefore SADD welcome this drastic proposal to lower the BAC to zero, for the following reasons. South Africans are the biggest drinkers in Africa, and 4th worldwide in terms of risky drinking styles such as drink driving; excessive binge drinking; drinking to get drunk/pass out; from morning to night and without eating food. This is creating an enormous burden to our economy (about R400 billion annually) and an unquantifiable cost to the mental health of families. SADD do not believe most of our public are sophisticated enough to work out what a unit comes to in breath or blood alcohol concentrations; are able to work out elimination rates of alcohol; and know when one is safe to drive. i.e. when all the alcohol is eliminated from the body. SAPS, Traffic Officers, Magistrates and Judges also do not seem to know the difference between drinking and being “drunk”. That a person who is alcohol dependent/an alcoholic does not look or act drunk, because they are a practiced drinker (i.e. Have alcohol tolerance,) but that their driving is severely impaired. They do not seem to understand what the different levels of blood alcohol and breath alcohol are or how they affect driving skills. So Zero % alcohol is easy to understand for all! What about alcohol in medicines? It is clearly marked on all medicines containing alcohol that the person should not drive, or operate machinery! People should request alcohol free medication from Doctors. No excuses! In terms of the small amount of alcohol produced naturally in the body, this is negligible.


SADD caution that merely changing the level to zero will not mean people will stop drink driving!


It must be followed through with rigorous enforcement i.e. frequent random testing, good paper work that stands up in court, swift appearances in Court, suspending Licenses after drink driving convictions, or going to jail if someone is killed or severely injured. When high conviction rates result, only then will drink driving decrease. People’s behaviour only changes when they are afraid of the legal and financial implications of their actions.

 

Our National Road Traffic Act recommends this, but Department of Justice do not implement these laws, and rather give tiny “slaps on the wrist, as if this is a petty crime.

 

What we need is proper enforcement, swift appearances in Court and prohibitive sentencing such as automatic removal of Licenses for all drink drivers, and Jail time for those who kill or severely injure.

 

SADD also accept that the body can produce trace elements of alcohol and so no one with a BAC of 0.01 should be prosecuted, unless they have had a serious crash. 

 

Therefore SADD feel a zero alcohol level is appropriate for South Africa to bring down our absolutely unacceptable road carnage, and the belief that it is acceptable to drink, then drive.

 

SADD also accept that the body can produce trace elements of alcohol and so no one with a BAC of 0.01 should be prosecuted, unless they have had a serious crash.