Drunk drivers will once again face the prospect of being locked up on the strength of a breathalyser test, after it was reintroduced at the beginning of the month.

The Dräger breathalyser was withdrawn following the 2011 course case in which the judge found there were problems in the way the device was used. It led to the acquittal of the accused who had been charged with driving over the legal limit of 0.24mg per 1 000ml. Since then, traffic authorities had to rely on more time-consuming blood alcohol testing to prosecute drunk drivers.

Then, in June, the Department of Transport and Public Works said a task team had worked through the problems identified in court. In a statement last week, the department said alcohol caused many fatal crashes in the province and warnings by traffic authorities that alcohol and roads don’t mix were ignored.

“Drivers who continue to risk their lives and the lives of other citizens heedlessly, who destroy taxpayer-funded infrastructure, and who take policing resources away from attending to other crimes are reminded that, unlike blood alcohol testing, EBAT (evidentiary breath alcohol testing) results are immediate,” it said.

It is called “evidentiary” because the breathalyser reading of how much alcohol there is in a person’s breath can be used as evidence in court to prosecute offenders. But for the test to be admissible, the breathalyser, those who operate it and the testing conditions must all meet strict legal requirements. Western Cape provincial traffic officers had received the necessary training at the Gene Louw Traffic College, the department said.

“This means that persons suspected of driving under the influence who are below the legal limit can be released immediately. Persons arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence may be detained for some time, often overnight or until the end of a weekend,” said the department. “In the previous system, because of the long delays in obtaining the results of blood tests, such persons will then face a long period of legal uncertainty while the blood test is being processed, often six months or more. By contrast, because the results of an EBAT test are instant, the case can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.”

Provincial traffic services made 779 driving under the influence (DUI) arrests during weekend operations this year - the most DUI arrests were recorded during the holiday weekends in April.

The department said it had spent many long hours with the National Prosecuting Authority and other roleplayers to ensure all the legal requirements were met to reintroduce breathalysers at its SHADOW (Safely Home Anti-drink Driving Operational Room) Centre in Athlone.

“Driving under the influence can cost you time in prison, legal fees, fines, your job, your licence and possibly your life. If you decide to drink and drive, traffic officers are waiting for you. Make another plan, and don’t drink and drive. Let’s work together to make driving under the influence a thing of the past,” the department said.