Durban - Drink and drive at your peril, the department of transport has warned as it threatens a clampdown that will see offenders jailed for longer periods.
Minister of transport Dipuo Peters told the media on the sidelines of the National Road Safety Summit in Durban on Monday the department would come down hard on those behaving recklessly on the roads.
The summit, the third of its kind, comes as the festive season - typically a deadly period on South African roads - approaches.
“We are working with the department of justice and constitutional development to make sure that those arrested for drunk driving, speeding and driving unroadworthy vehicles are kept in jail.
“We will also be going to court to oppose bail applications to make sure that those people stay in jail,” she added. “We want them to feel what it’s like to stay in jail for something that they could have avoided.
“The Christmas weekend will be a long weekend,” sh e said. “So if you are arrested on a Friday, you will be kept in jail until Tuesday. We want our traffic officers not to give spot fines or warnings to those arrested for speeding and other transgressions on the road.”
Her comments will be welcome to road safety commentators who have felt that there is a disconnect between the arrest and the prosecution of road offenders.
They felt the department of justice did not take the prosecution of road offenders seriously, citing the low conviction rate.
37 000 funerals
Carnage on our roads is costing the South African economy a fortune. Media reports have noted that the Road Accident Fund has paid more than R110 billion to 1.1 million claimants over the past five years, and paid for 37 000 funerals.
Arrive Alive statistics show that 12 944 lives were lost last year due to driver error and that 85 percent of crashes were caused by human error, not obeying the rules of the road or drunk driving.
Peters urged the public to not condone criminal behaviour such as the buying of driving and motor vehicle licences.
“I also urge the driving schools not to let somebody who is not ready for testing to go for testing, and I urge them not to bribe our officers because that is a crime and they will be arrested,” she said.
The minister said the department was partnering with survivors of road accidents, saying they were “our conscience to help us remember those who died on the roads”.
“When we think of the road accidents, we often think of the dead, forgetting that there are survivors who were injured or maimed in the crash,” she pointed out. “They are among our hardest working people. While others might be out drinking, they would be out working.”
Caro Smit of South Africans Against Drunk Driving said the minister should be careful how her plans were implemented.
“I do not know about jailing everyone, but if they have killed or severely injured someone they should sit in jail and go to court quickly,” said Smit.
She said the speed at which the justice system worked remained a serious challenge.
Department of justice spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said he would have to consult minister of justice Michael Masutha before commenting on the matter.
“However, we will be supportive of any action that will end the carnage on our roads,” he said.
On Monday morning a delegation from the provincial department of transport laid a wreath at the base of Field’s Hill in Pinetown in remembrance of all road victims in KwaZulu-Natal, including 24 people who lost their lives in a runaway truck crash there in 2013.