Home South African Concern that new drunk-driving law will ‘criminalise innocent motorists’

Concern that new drunk-driving law will ‘criminalise innocent motorists’


With over 27 percent of road deaths being alcohol related it’s clear that something needs to be done. But is a zero limit the solution?

File picture: Matthew Jordaan

THERE is no denying that when it comes to drinking and driving, South Africans have a serious problem. With over 27 percent of road deaths being alcohol related it’s clear that something needs to be done, and fast.

However, the proposed amendments to the National Road Traffic Act, which will effectively reduce the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers to zero, are unlikely to make a difference, experts say.

In fact, the Automobile Association believes that the upcoming bill will only succeed in criminalising innocent motorists.

“These proposed changes are concerning on a number of levels and although the stated reason for the change is the promotion of road safety, within the current framework of traffic law enforcement nothing will change, except that innocent drivers are likely to be criminalised,” the AA said.

“For instance, someone who is using medication which contains alcohol will now be arrested, charged and possibly prosecuted for having a small dose of alcohol in their blood while their driving ability has not been impaired”.

The Association added that simply drafting legislation will not make a difference to the death toll, unless authorities step up enforcement.

“How will traffic law enforcement change to accommodate this proposed amendment? And, perhaps more importantly, how will a single piece of legislation change drivers’ attitudes when nothing else around traffic law enforcement changes at the same time?

“We need to be in a situation where people are afraid to drive if they have been drinking,” the AA said.

While the current legal blood alcohol content limit for drivers is set to be reduced from 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres to zero, the AA believes that a reduction to 0.02g/100m would have been more effective and appropriate.

The proposed legislation is currently open for public comment, with submissions being due by November 20.

An argument in favour of zero

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance South Africa (SAAPA SA) has welcomed the new bill and believes that it does have the potential to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic incidents in South Africa.

“There is no need for anyone to drink and drive. It is perfectly possible for someone who is driving to avoid drinking and someone who is drinking to avoid driving. There should, indeed, be no choice in the matter,” the SAAPA said.

“And those who say there should be better law enforcement, not further restrictions, are missing a crucial point – there cannot be road blocks everywhere. Instead of arguing against legislation whose purpose is to save lives, they should use their energy to argue, for example, for alternatives to driving such as better and safer public transport, especially for women.”

The bottom line

However, none of the arguments in favour of a zero limit have pointed out how the fatality rate differs between motorists with a blood alcohol concentration of below 0.05 and those who are above the current limit.

The danger is that ‘soft targets’ who are on medication or who might have had a single drink with dinner are going to face the wrath of the law, which could take some attention away from the drivers who are actually dangerously intoxicated.