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SA’s 0% alcohol legislation – Threat of punishment won't reduce unsafe driving

A zero-tolerance drunk driving law is on the cards in the upcoming National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, writes Rhys Evans, MD at drug and alcohol testing equipment company ALCO-Safe, in News24. He argues that the 0% alcohol law alone will not reduce unsafe driving and that more visible law enforcement is needed.

In an open access opinion piece in Wheels24, published on 6 August 2021 and shortened here, Evans writes that the Department of Transport intends to introduce a zero-tolerance drunk driving regulation despite concern from civil society groups, businesses and legal experts.

“In implementing a total prohibition on alcohol consumption by all drivers on South African roads, public interest groups believe that the effect of this provision could be potentially harmful, arguing that the change is unlikely to reduce fatalities but could instead criminalise the innocent.”

Evans continues: “The main goal of the new law is to promote road safety and reduce alcohol-related accidents. ALCO-Safe supports this idea entirely.

“However, it must be pointed out that what we need to deter unsafe driving behaviour isn't only stricter laws but rather the enhanced application of the rules and visible enforcement. By deleting any reference to the alcohol content in the blood or breath specimen, the Amendment Bill seeks a total prohibition on alcohol consumption for all drivers.”

He supports the need for change as evident considering that drunk driving incidents cost the economy some R18.2 billion annually and account for 27.1% of fatal road crashes. “However, it is worth noting that South Africa's laws on drinking and driving are already strict and in line with worldwide best practices.

“This zero-tolerance amendment, combined with the new demerit system for drivers under the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences, could see motorists penalised with up to six demerit points for a positive breathalyser result. After 15 demerit points, their license will be suspended for three months for every point over the threshold, which could severely impact the driver's livelihood during the suspension period.”

In-depth competency training and certification is essential

Enforcing a 0% permissible blood alcohol level becomes problematic if officers entrusted with enforcing the new law have not undergone extensive training, Evans writes in Wheels24.

“A motorist tested at a roadblock could unwittingly yield a false-positive result due to certain cough medicines, toothpaste, or food products containing trace amounts of alcohol if untrained officials test them.

“Untrained officers are less likely to understand the laws and why they are in place. They are most likely going to be less confident in what they are doing, and therefore more likely to be convinced to take bribes rather than follow the correct procedures.”

Evans continues: “There is room to argue that we should rather analyse why the current system is failing and address those problems before passing a new law that will be hampered by the same problems as the old laws and possibly new problems as well.”

“We don't necessarily need harsher laws to reduce dangerous driving behaviour. Instead, we need to increase the effectiveness of enforcement. This involves measures such as 24/7 traffic policing and testing motorists using regular roadblocks, all year round, not just during the festive season. Active monitoring of the officers conducting the testing to ensure they are not taking bribes is of utmost importance.”

He concludes: “Essentially, the letter of the law should not be overlooked in pursuit of an outcome that could be more effectively achieved by applying the law itself.”

See the link below for the full News24-Wheels24 report.

 

News24 opinion article – 0% alcohol law: The threat of punishment won't reduce unsafe driving behaviour (Open access)

 

See also from the MedicalBrief archives

 

Law enforcement and drunk driving — how to curb SA’s road crash epidemic

 

AA sceptical over reduction of blood alcohol limits

 

Alcohol industry – R150 million boost for harm reduction initiatives

 

 

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