Breathalyser comeback: What you should know

Published Jun 24, 2016


Cape Town - After the Dräger breathalyser was dismissed countrywide as an evidential source of breath alcohol levels in drunk driving cases in 2011, the Western Cape will re-introduce results from these tests in a pilot phase from August 1.

This means that suspected drunk drivers will now skip the hospital visit where blood is drawn, and could proceed to court in a matter of hours if the re-recognised Dräger equipment indicates they’re over the limit.

Dräger, which is a brand name of breath alcohol testing devices, was withdrawn in 2011 after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) determined its results could not be used as evidence in court.

The breathalyser test performed at the side of the road (as opposed to the more complex deskop breathalyser at police stations) has always only been a drunk driving screen test and its results cannot be used as evidence in court. However, if it indicates that drivers are over the legal limit they are taken to a hospital where a blood alcohol level test is administered – the results of which are evidentiary in court.

Until now this blood test has been an invasive procedure based on blood samples drawn from a needle, and while regarded as valid and accurate, require time-consuming forensic laboratory testing. In the Western Cape alone there has been a backlog of more than 30 000 unprocessed samples, and results can take more than a year to be issued. The backlogs are similar in other parts of the country.

Now a form of evidence

The re-introduction of a desktop-type police station-based Dräger breath alcohol sample to be recognised as evidential in the Western Cape, could hasten the conviction process. Instead of years, court appearances for perpetrators could happen in hours.

It could later roll out to the rest of the country. Johannesburg Metro Police Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said that Gauteng police officers are currently using handheld Dräger devices at roadsides to screen for drunk drivers, but they would begin using the desktop Dräger Alcotest equipment if and when the Gauteng High Court approves its results as evidential.

It is believed that all Dräger desktop devices sold to municipalities for use in 2011 were sub-standard. Unlike other countries such as the US where breath alcohol levels are required for conviction, SA requires both breath and blood test results. The correct machinery, known as Evidential Breath Alcohol Testing Equipment, can extrapolate data from breath to collate a recognised blood alcohol level.

While the Western Cape has acquired the correct equipment from Dräger, other provinces would need to upgrade to these devices before courts allow their readings as admissible.

Star Motoring

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