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Early in June, the government introduced the new Road Traffic Amendment Bill in parliament around drinking and driving.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula announced that government is planning to introduce a new legislation affecting the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit for drivers in South Africa, to be reduced to zero percent by the month of December 2020.

Mbalula stated that no one will be able to drive a vehicle or occupy the driver’s seat while the engine is running with any percent of alcohol in their system under the new amended act.

Mbalula added that; “Research conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) in collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council and the University of South Africa shows that driver alcohol intoxication accounts for 27.1% of fatal crashes in the country. This is estimated to cost the economy R18.2 billion annually. As indicated by this study and many observations including the recent death of TMPD officers, we need to strengthen the law and ensure that Innocent lives are saved.”

However, the question is if the new amendment will indeed serve a greater purpose and if the new regulations of 0% alcohol will work sufficiently in South Africa.

The Automobile Association (AA) added to the statement that by changing traffic laws relating to drink driving is indeed meaningless. They also added that it will be ineffective if current laws that regulate alcohol and driving are not properly implemented and enforced from the start.

AA mentioned that instead of legalizing the new BAC to 0%, drinking and driving can be more effectively combated by just reducing the allowable alcohol limits for drivers, or that tougher sentences for offenders should be imposed by the courts.

Implementing a 0% will not stop the drunk drivers who regularly exceed the current limits – because there are simply no consequences for their actions

The AA recently proposed that the 0.05% alcohol limit should be reduced to 0.02%.

AA also stated an important fact that the government did not take into consideration the fact that some medications such as cough syrups may contain alcohol and that it will be unethical to charge a driver for being over the 0% limit and that they will find themselves with criminal records for taking one dose of this medication.

 “Reducing the blood alcohol limit to zero will not solve the problem of road deaths in South Africa if it is not supported by a thorough, scientific diagnosis of the problem of drink driving with proper statistics which back such a move. Behavioural change is needed to solve this problem and that requires proper enforcement of existing laws, and more intensive education of the dangers of drunk driving, both of which do not currently occur,” said the AA.

AA concluded with the statement; “But we cannot have a situation where the government is guessing to what extent alcohol is a contributor of road deaths with no actual plan to deal with the road safety crisis in South Africa as a whole other than to amend the law. This approach amounts to dealing with the issue of drunk driving without first addressing the issue of current enforcement and lack of education. It is our view that people who drink and drive will not alter their behaviour because there are no consequences so they’re willing to take that gamble of being caught. Ensuring proper law enforcement should be the first step before amending laws. If law enforcement doesn’t change how it operates now, how will changing the law make a difference? Pedestrian safety remains a huge concern but little is being to deal with this problem. Road safety requires a total approach which deals with vehicle safety, pedestrian safety, and more education on road safety.”

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