The Department of Transport says that it will stand firm on its decision to introduce a zero-tolerance drunk driving regulation in South Africa’s planned National Road Traffic Amendment Bill.
The bill introduces a total prohibition for the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South African public roads.
It does this by deleting reference to any alcohol content in the blood or breath specimen of motor vehicle drivers on the road in South Africa.
The National Road Traffic Act (NRA) currently enables those who have consumed alcohol to get behind the wheel provided they are under the blood alcohol limit.
These laws differentiate between normal drivers and drivers who hold professional driving permits.
Nearly all of the public submissions on the bill focused on this drunk-driving aspect, with civil society groups, businesses, legal experts and opposition parties all raising concerns of the potentially harmful impact of the provision.
Some of the concerns raised include:
- False positives from cough medicines, toothpaste and other products with trace amounts of alcohol;
- Insufficient capacity within the traffic department to enforce the rules;
- The change is unlikely to reduce fatalities, but could further criminalise the innocent.
However, the department has remained steadfast on this provision, stating that it will help drastically lower road fatalities in the country.
Citing data from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and the South African Medical Research Council, the department said that drunk driving accounts for 27.1% of fatal crashes in the country.
It added that the estimated cost to the economy because of drunk driving sits at R18.2 billion annually.
The department acknowledged that certain substances, such as cough medicine, could also give a false reading due to trace amounts of alcohol. However, it said that this was not enough reason to the scrap the proposal.
“A lot of cough medicines contain warning leaflets that advise people against the consumption of the medication if they will be operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery,” it said.
“It is thus ideal that a person who has consumed such medication will be best advised to have a rest in order to let the effects of the medication subside. A lot of these medications cause drowsiness and thus constitutes a danger to the driver himself/herself, as well as other road users.”
The department said that the introduction of 24/7 traffic policing as well as the use of the Evidential Breathalyser Alcohol Test (EBAT) system will further help enforce the regulations.