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The government’s plan to cut legal alcohol limits for drivers has been slammed by the Western Cape’s No.1 anti-drink driving crusader, transport MEC Robin Carlisle.
The national transport department gazetted draft amendments to the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill on July 18, and chief among its provisions are for the maximum blood-alcohol levels to drop from 0.05g/100ml to 0.02g/100ml.
For professional drivers, the current limit drops to zero - in other words a complete ban on booze.
Carlisle said: “I have no scientific evidence - and to my knowledge there is none, anywhere in the world - that if you reduce the existing levels the number of accidents will decline.
“We have gone to great lengths - with great help from the media - to try to get people to change their behaviour.
“It’s my view that a very large number of people have done just that - they have changed the way they go out to restaurants, to parties, etc.
“I’m therefore reluctant to go back to them and say thank you for trying very hard for not exceeding your two drinks but now, however, I have a nasty surprise for you,” Carlisle said, referring to the proposed legislation.
In addition to Carlisle’s contention about a lack of scientific evidence in support of the cut, no experts or other industry sources could provide any proof that drivers who drank liquor up to the 0.05g level were more dangerous on the roads than those with up to 0.02g.
On the national government’s own official “Arrive Alive” website, both “social drinkers” and “habitual drinkers” are clearly described as “sober” up to the 0.05g level.
On this scale, only “social drinkers” who have upwards of 0.06g are described as “light(ly) (intoxicated)”.
“Habitual drinkers” require a little more alcohol to be as intoxicated as their “social” drinking counterparts.
But up to 0.09g they are still described as “sober” – in apparent contrast to the proposed legislation.
OBJECTION FROM DIRECTORATE OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS
Carlisle also said they had since received an objection to the amendment from the provincial Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
In their response, which Carlisle’s office has been asked to forward to the national transport department, the DPP writes: “Not supported. The directorate is of the opinion that it may influence the outcome of the use of breathalysers due to the impact that physiological factors may have, especially with a reading of less than zero, thereby jeopardising successful prosecution.
“Before this Section is amended proper consultation with the DPP is required.”
Carlisle explained that, in a nutshell, the DPP was arguing that the proposal could inadvertently lead to fewer successful convictions.
In contrast to Carlisle, Professor Charles Parry, director of the Medical Research Council’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Research Unit, yesterday called for the “zero” tolerance for professional drivers to be extended to all drivers.
“Sure it would cramp our lifestyles a little, but the benefits in terms of less accidents, fewer family members getting calls in the middle of the night to say their loved ones have been injured or killed, and probably even lower insurance premiums all point to this being a logical move,” Parry said.
The deadline for public comment is August 18 and if implemented, the legislation will forbid drivers to imbibe more than roughly one drink – roughly half that of the current limit.
Gary Ronald from the Automobile Association (AA) explained that 0.02g/100ml was equivalent to:
25ml of vodka or brandy.
75ml of wine.
Two thirds of a beer.
JOURNO AND JOCKS STAY THE COURSE
In 2010, under the auspices of the LeadSA, journalists from the Cape Argus and radio jocks from Kfm and CapeTalk drove repeatedly through a course marked with traffic cones at Killarney race track under controlled conditions, while consuming alcoholic drinks of their choice.
They were observed by race and stunt driver Deon Joubert, Harold Williams of the provincial traffic department, and paramedic Wayne Philander.
Jock Aden Thomas said: “What struck me most about the exercise was seeing to what extent alcohol affected simple judgement on the part of the drivers. After a couple of drinks, we all struggled to execute straightforward turns, our ability to gauge braking distances was suspect, and we all seemed to get a thrill out of driving faster – and that was after just a handful of drinks.” - Cape Argus