Reducing the drink driving limit to zero makes zero sense, experts say

By Motoring Staff Time of article published Aug 26, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – There’s no denying South Africans have a problem with drink driving, but lowering the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit to zero would be meaningless and ineffective if the current laws are not properly implemented and enforced first, the Automobile Association said.

This comes after Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced on Tuesday night the government was forging ahead with plans to reduce the limit to zero, and that he hoped the bill would be passed by Parliament before the end of the year.

However, the AA quite sensibly points out that a zero limit is not going to change people’s behaviour and courts should instead impose tougher sentences on offenders.

“The current enforcement of drunk drivers will not stop those who regularly exceed the limits because there are simply no consequences for their actions,” the association said.

“Although South Africa’s current BAC limit of 0.05% is not out of line with world standards, the crisis on South Africa’s roads demands a tougher approach. The AA is proposing that the 0.05% limit be reduced to 0.02% which is in place in many countries.”

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These sentiments are echoed by MasterDrive managing director Eugene Herbert, who pointed out that a driver who does not respect the current BAC limit is unlikely to respect a lower one.

“We need to accept that a real difference can only be made by changing the drinking behaviour of drunk drivers,” Herbert added.

“A change in behaviour can only be realised once people truly understand how dangerous and destructive drinking and driving can be. The onus is on society, corporates and individuals to initiate this change.”

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The AA also pointed out that the zero limit approach does not take into consideration that some medications such as cough syrups may contain alcohol. In these cases drivers may find themselves with criminal records for taking one dose of this medication when it will have no material effect on their driving ability.

“Reducing the blood alcohol limit to zero will not solve the problem of road deaths in South Africa if it is not supported by a thorough, scientific diagnosis of the problem of drink driving with proper statistics which back such a move,” the AA added.

“Behavioural change is needed to solve this problem and that requires proper enforcement of existing laws, and more intensive education of the dangers of drunk driving, both of which do not currently occur”.

The AA said the current analyses of drunk driving in South Africa are fragmented and disparate, with no conclusive findings besides those which call for greater research on the matter.

However, the Department of Transport says the new legislation is motivated by research conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), the South African Medical Research Council and Unisa, which showed that alcohol was involved in 27.1 percent of fatal car crashes between 2016 and 2018.

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