Dedicated policing and massive public awareness campaigns to stop drunk driving are all for naught after it has emerged that most of those arrested are escaping prosecution because of administrative snarl-ups and blood test backlogs.
The festive season blitz, which saw 2800 people arrested for drunk driving, might as well never have happened as blood samples are not being processed timeously, making prosecutions unlikely.
This is despite statistics showing that alcohol accounts for 65 percent of road accidents.
KwaZulu-Natal Transport Department spokesman Kwanele Ncalane said transport officials were very concerned.
“There has been a meeting with the national justice cluster to make drunk-driving cases a priority in the courts,” he said.
Llewellyn Curlewis, from the Law Society of South Africa, said lab reports on blood samples could take up to six months before they were completed.
“The person arrested will usually appear in court within 48 hours, when their case is then postponed for six months to give the police time to get the lab results. But by the time they have managed to secure the results, the case has been discharged,” he said.
Last week, staff at the national health department’s pathology lab, where blood samples are sent for testing, confirmed that many of the festive season samples had not been processed.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) refused to release statistics of how many of the 12 867 drivers arrested in KZN for drunk driving between April 2011 and March 2012 were ever convicted.
These statistics, they claim, were only for “official purposes”.
The Justice Department also declined to respond to how many of the cases heard in the province’s courts last year resulted in convictions, referring queries to the NPA.
Curlewis said the NPA and Justice Department would not release the figures as they showed how few drivers arrested for being over the limit were ever convicted.
“I doubt they would like to hand those out to the public,” he said.
Road Traffic Management Corporation spokesman Ashref Ismail said the corporation was also denied access to the statistics.
Health Department spokesman Popo Maja said the turnaround time on drunk-driving tests was 12 to 18 weeks, but admitted the 2 759 samples received from the police over the festive season were yet to be processed.
KZN police spokesman Thulani Zwane said six months was more the reality. -The Mercury