Transport minister Dr Blade Nzimande. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ African News Agency(ANA)

DURBAN – Transport Minister Blade Nzimande on Monday said that his department would be focusing on alcohol abuse in an effort to curb drunk driving over the Easter period.

This included rolling out the Evidentiary Breathalyser Alcohol Testing (EBAT) system to curb South Africa’s high death toll on the roads.

Nzimande was speaking at the launch of the Easter road safety campaign in Pietermaritzburg.  

Nzimande started the day at the Golden Horse Casino before moving on to the alcohol evidence centre at the road traffic inspectorate (RTI) offices, where he was briefed by management.

Following the visit to the RTI offices, he joined traffic police at a roadblock where the Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Testing (EBAT) system was being used on motorists. 

Road accidents had an immense impact on all aspects of society”, Nzimande told stakeholders at the launch. “[They] rob communities of people who are in the prime of their lives, affect productivity and place significant burdens on the state and organisations who have to care for victims of road crashes.”

Last year, the country recorded a 14 percent increase in the Easter road death toll over the 12-day period, with the number of pedestrian deaths increasing by over four per cent.  South Africa spends about R162 billion annually on road crashes, about 3.4 percent of the GDP.

Nzimande said that this year’s Easter period would be coupled with Freedom Day, Worker’s Day as well as general elections on May 8, which called for “doubled efforts” amongst role players. 

The department would be working with the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), Road Accident Fund (RAF),  Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA), Cross-Border Road Transport Agency and South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL).

“We will be joined by the [SA Police Services] SAPS, the Department of Health and Emergency Services, who will be strategically operating in our known hazardous locations,” said Nzimande, adding that improving road safety was “everyone’s responsibility”.

The minister said that research indicated that 77% of all fatal road crashes were due to “human factors”.

Road conditions led to 16% of fatal accidents and vehicle conditions were responsible for six percent of accidents.

Drunk-driving, distractions such as using cellphones while driving, speeding, reckless driving and pedestrians were the top five causes attributed to human factors in fatal accidents, said Nzimande.

“A single use of a cellphone results in an average of 52 seconds of distracted driving, which is just over one kilometre, impairing the driver's ability to react adequately to changes in the road.”

When it came to factors such as the condition of vehicles, Nzimande said that research by the CSIR found that almost 20% of crashes involving minibus taxis had tyre failure as a contributing factor.

Using technology in an effort to curb road deaths was just one of the interventions role players would be focusing on, said Nzimande. 

And although finally putting EBAT into practice had been a difficult one, all of the “administrative and legislative challenges” had now been overcome.

“This includes ensuring that at all times during our roadblocks targeted at alcohol testing, we have registered nursing sisters, [which] will ensure that no driver will evade being arrested for drinking and driving,” he said.

African News Agency (ANA)