Transport Minister, Dikobe Ben Martins talks at a press conference at the closing of the festive season road safety campaign. Photo: Lauren Rawlins

Durban - Drink any alcohol and then drive and you could be breaking the law if new Transport Minister Ben Martins has his way.

At a hard-hitting press conference on the devastating festive season death toll on South Africa’s roads, held in Durban on Thursday, Martins said the authorities had no choice but to take an extremely tough line on the roads.

The road death toll from December 1 to January 8 was 1 465 and the biggest killers were drunk drivers.

For Martins, who took over from S’bu Ndebele in June last year, the death toll was a shock.

For this reason, his department was considering changes to the law to make the blood-alcohol limit for driving zero. A total ban on alcohol advertising was also to be considered.

About 40 percent of the deaths during the festive season involved pedestrians illegally crossing roads, most of them drunk.

“At least R306 billion is lost to the economy due to road fatalities each year,” said Martins, and no amount of money the alcohol industry brought in could compensate for that, or the loss of life.

Collins Letsoalo, acting chief executive of the Road Traffic Management Corporation, said he supported the minister without reservation

“We call for a zero alcohol limit and a total ban on alcohol advertising,” he said.

But AA spokesman Gary Ronald did not entirely agree with the proposals, saying there was a lack of consequences for drunk drivers, which was why they still took chances.

“I would be quite comfortable with a zero limit for new drivers, and a 0.02 (grams per 100ml of blood) for all other drivers – which is less than one beer,” said Ronald. Currently the legal limit is 0.05g/ml.

“But the consequences are the issue. If there is no consequence, it won’t matter (what the alcohol limit is).”

Ronald said education and proper enforcement of the law were what was needed before motorists changed their attitude and the death toll came down.

As for the ban on all alcohol advertising: “I don’t think it will make a significant change. The only time people will change their habits is if they perceive a risk and think they will be arrested,” said Ronald.

According to KZN Department of Transport spokesman Kwanele Ncalane, 1 707 people were arrested in the province over the festive period for drunk driving.

The DA’s spokesman for transport, Greg Krumbock, called for an “attitude shift” in drivers’ behaviour.

“With the continued failure of the centrally managed Road Traffic Management Corporation to make a significant impact on road safety, provincial and local governments need to step up campaigns,” he said.

Safety campaigns should focus on motivating motorists to take personal responsibility for their road safety, and for that of other road users, including pedestrians.

“This means wearing a seat belt, driving within the speed limit, stopping to rest when they feel tired, and not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” he said

Among the other proposals the minster made was to move quickly to implement the driving licence demerit system, the roll-out of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act, and an increase in the use of average speed cameras.

Despite the death of almost 38 people on the roads each day, Martins said he still considered the festive season campaign a “success”.

“All the agencies have gone out there and done the best they could.” - The Mercury