Durban motorists have been urged to drive sober this festive season and learn from the experience of kwaito star Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye and his friend, Themba Tshabalala, who were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment this week.
Last year in KwaZulu-Natal 247 drivers spent at least a night in jail after being arrested for drunk driving over the festive season.
Traffic authorities have long been arguing for harsher sentences for people who drive under the influence, and hope that the strong message sent by the courts will make people think before they start drinking.
There had initially been cynicism from the victims’ schoolmates in the Soweto tragedy, and the general public, that the two drivers would escape from the court case almost unscathed.
But Maarohanye and Tshabalala were sentenced at the Protea Magistrate’s Court this week for the murders of four children who were hit by a car in which the pair had been drag racing while under the influence.
Two other children have been declared brain dead.
Transport MEC Willies Mchunu saidon Thursday the sentence should serve as a reminder and a lesson for motorists to obey the law.
About 110 people were killed in road accidents in KwaZulu-Natal each month, he said.
Speaking on Thursday at the graduation of traffic officers in Pietermarizburg, Mchunu warned them that accepting a bribe is the worst form of crime.
He said that traffic officers who took bribes were contributing to an increased number of fatalities on the road because the act of breaking a traffic law had gone unpunished.
“I have always said that such conduct contributes directly to increased incidents of carnage on our roads, precisely because failure to prosecute deviant behaviour amounts to promoting it.
“So, yours is to never indulge in corrupt practices like bribery. You will be caught and you will pay the price.
“It has happened to others, and it can also happen to you. And that price would be the end of a challenging and rewarding career in traffic law enforcement,” Mchunu said.
He urged traffic officers to be more visible and be harsh to transgressors over this festive season.
Metro police spokesman, Eugene Msomi,
said 247 motorists were arrested for drunk driving in Durban during last year’s festive season, and a further 1 970 were arrested over the rest of that year on the same charge.
A total of 25 246 motorists had received fines for speeding last year and 230 for reckless driving
Msomi warned motorists that roadblocks would commence from next weekend at strategic points.
“We [also] want to remind people who go to the beachfront, that alcohol is not allowed there and alcohol will be confiscated from them.”
However, while timely, the Maarohanye and Tshabalala sentencing might not be too much of a deterrent, said Caro Smit, director of South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD).
Smit, whose son died in a 2005 car accident when he was hit by a drunk driver, said she agreed with the aunt of one of the victims in the Jub Jub case who felt the sentences were too lenient.
“The National Road Traffic Act (1996) allows sentences of nine years’ imprisonment per person for deaths and six years’ imprisonment per person for severe injuries. SADD would have liked to see them each receive sentences of 48 years [in keeping with the act],” she said.
However, the timing of the sentencing – early into the festive season – could serve as a reminder to motorists to think twice before drinking and driving.
Smit urged police to test more drivers more frequently and stressed that motorists should educate themselves about elimination rates of alcohol, which she said were slow.
“If you have a big party [the night before] you could still be drunk the next day and [thus still be] a danger on the road,” she said.
“The only safe driving rule is no alcohol when you drive, because even one unit affects driving skills.”
Smit said alcohol testing should be done at every crash scene for all drivers involved, and traffic officers needed to be on duty 24 hours a day.