Drink driving laws to be changed

The Department of Transport has amended the regulations that pertain to how much allowed to drink before you drive. Moneybags journalist, Ashleigh Brown, finds out more.

The Department of Transport (DoT) has a new proposal for drivers: no alcohol at all when driving. Even though the current law allows drivers to have up to 0.05g of alcohol per 100ml of blood, or 0.02g/100ml for professional drivers, this might soon change.

“This means that even after what you may think is a “small drink”, you could be over the limit. If you have more than 350ml of beer, or if you have more than a single tot of brandy or other spirit, you may already be over the limit,” says the South African Police Service (Saps).

The amendments states that “no person shall on a public road- (a) drive a vehicle; or (b) occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle the engine of which is running, while there is concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken from any part of his or her body,” said the  Draft National Road Traffic Amendment Bill.

Saps went on to say that these levels of alcohol will remain in your system for up to eight hours after consumption.

According to South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD), alcohol abuse is behind about 65% of South Africa’s approximately 20 000 yearly deaths and 150 000 injuries.

Adding to this research indicates that 50% of people who die on the roads have a blood alcohol concentration above 0.05 gram per 100 millilitres, highlighted the Arrive Alive website.

“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,” said Caro Smit from SADD.

False-negatives

Certain medications and medical illnesses can cause a false-negatives on breathalyser, or blood tests.

For example, someone with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease can cause a false-negative on a breathalyser test. Alcohol gases or vapors coming up from their stomach can be mistakenly read by the machine as deep lung air. This can cause the breathalyser machine to give a falsely high blood alcohol result.

Certain cough mixtures, and other medications can have alcohol in them. However, the DoT was not available for comment on how they were going to handle false-negatives.

However, SADD says that people who take medicines with alcohol in them, or even certain medication which makes them drowsy, should not be driving in the first place.

“It is clearly marked on all medicines with any alcohol on them that the person should be aware that alcohol impairs driving skills, and they should not drive. In addition they should not operate heavy machinery. SADD also accept that the body can produce trace elements of alcohol,” said Smit.

Is a lower limit better?

Despite these proposals, some believe that banning drink driving entirely is not going to stop the carnage on our roads. Rather, there needs to be a change in the implementation of the law, and to show people that drinking and driving is not on.

“Our alcohol level would not need to be lowered if we followed the examples of first world countries and implemented our National Road Traffic Act, and if the Departments of Transport, Justice, and the SAPS worked optimally and saw drink driving as a serious crime that they concentrated on,” said Smit.

Smit went on to say that people’s behaviour only changes when they are afraid of the legal and financial implications of their actions.

And those two things – fear and money – are what Saps are trying to target when someone is caught drink-driving.

“You will be held in custody until you are able to post bail (in certain instances bail may be denied, which depends on the circumstances, and bail application). Depending on prior convictions against you, as well as the circumstances surrounding your arrest, you face a minimum fine of R2 000 or a two-year prison sentence, or both. You may also lose your driver’s licence, or have it suspended. And, of course, you will have a criminal record,” said Saps.

Whether a complete ban on drink driving will be implemented remains to be seen.

Even if it were implemented there are doubts about whether it will add any value or save lives. More than 15 years ago the blood alcohol level was lowered from <0.08g to <0.05g, but the death and injury rate has increased, according to Smit.

*The Department of Transport was not available for comment at the time of publication.