Lawmakers target drinking and walking

By Time of article published Nov 27, 1999

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Taslima Viljoen

Everyone knows it is illegal to drive drunk, but what if one could be fined for drunk walking? If Western Cape police and politicians have their way a new law will be passed to make it an offence for pedestrians to be on public roads under the influence of alcohol.

Shocking statistics show that most people killed and injured in road accidents in the province are pedestrians - and most of them are drunk.

The new law means that someone found staggering out of a pub and walking along a public road could be tested and fined if found over the legal limit - at present a blood-alcohol level of 0,08 mg/100ml for drivers is the limit.

This will be reduced to 0,05mg/100ml for ordinary motorists and 0,02mg/100ml for bus and truck drivers.

The maximum penalty for drivers is a R120 000 fine or six months' imprisonment, or both.

The move to penalise drunken pedestrians would be aimed specifically at people walking along the road drunk. It would not mean a revival of the old 19th-century law making it an offence to be drunk in public, which is seldom enforced.

Provincial traffic authorities are holding meetings with the provincial administration to discuss the possibility of a law enabling drunken pedestrians to be fined.

A staggering 68 percent of people killed on Cape Town roads are pedestrians, compared with the national figure of 40 percent.

Johan van der Spuy, head of the Medical Research Council's national trauma research programme, said that of the pedestrians knocked down on roads, one in 10 died in urban areas and one in three in rural areas, where there were fewer medical facilities.

Alcohol played a major factor in these fatalities. In most cases the alcohol levels of pedestrians were well over the 0,08mg/100ml limit set for drivers.

He said 72 percent of pedestrian fatalities were over the limit.

Blood-alcohol tests on injured pedestrians showed 58 percent were 0,2mg and higher, 14 percent were between 0,08mg and 0,19mg and 3 percent had some alcohol but less than 0,08mg. The remaining 25 percent were alcohol-free.

A study at Groote Schuur Hospital showed that half of injured pedestrians were chronic alcoholics and 70 percent had signs of dagga in their urine.

Van der Spuy said the situation was unacceptable and something had to be done.

While motorists could be charged for drunken driving, a drunken pedestrian crossing the N2 could not.

Drunken pedestrians were a financial burden on hospitals because 95 percent of treatment costs were not recovered, said Van der Spuy.

Provincial traffic chief Shermon Amos said traffic authorities were involved in talks on proposed legislation against drunken pedestrians, which would set an alcohol limit for pedestrians and fines. But it would take some time before it was drawn up and implemented.

Amos said drunken pedestrians were a serious problem, especially on major roads like the N2 and R300, where there were no footbridges and people living in the area had no alternative but to cross the busy road.

It was frustrating that people responsible for housing developments in the area had not consulted traffic authorities.

The problem of drunken pedestrians was complex and involved a variety of socio-economic issues such as the "dop" or tot system of payment for work, which still applied in some rural areas.

Motorists driving inside the yellow line on the side of road also caused pedestrian casualties.

Amos said a public awareness campaign to educate people about the dangers of drinking and walking was needed.

Provincial traffic authorities were involved in a campaign at schools, informal settlements and companies to educate people.

The AAA project, an extension of the Stamp Out Crime campaign, which was being launched by the provincial department of community safety, also intended to raise awareness of alcohol abuse.

AAA stands for combating crime against the aged; alcohol abuse; and abuse of women and children.

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