File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Government mulls reducing blood-alcohol level to 0%

By Norman Cloete Time of article published Nov 9, 2019

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Cape Town - Having just one drink and getting behind the wheel of a car may be just one too many.

With the festive season approaching, the national Transport Department is considering reducing the blood-alcohol level from 0.05% to 0%, and if given the green light, this will become part of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) system which will penalise drivers for a host of traffic infringements.

National Transport Department spokesperson Ayanda Allie-Paine said the proposal to drop the blood-alcohol level to 0% was part of a review process, which included reducing the speed limit, among other interventions which had been referred to the Road Traffic Management Corporation to study.

“Our plans for the festive season include targeted enforcement and smart policing. We intend to deploy all our available resources on a 24/7 basis for 365 days a year. This will also be a drill and precursor to the introduction of the Aarto Act,” she said.

But Professor Emeritus Hennie Klopper from the University of Pretoria has predicted about 100 more road deaths over the coming festive period than last year, and road safety experts agree there is very little evidence to suggest that the annual road death toll figure will decrease.

They claim “driver attitude”, and not “speed”, is the real killer. Perhaps even more shocking, according to Klopper, is the R164billion price tag that road accidents cost the SA economy each year.

“If you look at the cost of accidents and you look at the annual spend on road safety, which is about R15million, it’s no surprise that we still have these high road death toll figures,” said Klopper. Road Safety Action Campaign founder Richard Benson said he’d been calling for speed limits on the country’s roads to be reduced for years.

“South Africa records around 17000 deaths on our roads annually. The Road Accident Fund pays out around 229000 claims per year and this does not include factors like the loss of breadwinners and the devastation to families,” he said. Benson claimed that South Africa had been offered help by countries like Australia and Sweden to reduce the annual carnage but nothing came of it. According to him, Australia only records around 1500 deaths per year, which is about the figure recorded in South Africa every month.

Allie-Paine said there was consideration to reduce the speed by 20km/* (if it was 100 to 80, if 60 to 40 and freeways from 120 to 100). “Road accidents are not only the result of speed, but several other factors as well.

“Our Road safety strategy has considered all these factors. Legislation is being reviewed to address and bring in place an edifice of various interventions to respond adequately to the challenge that South Africa is facing.

“Among these, a review of the international best practice on speed reductions, as is the case in countries such as Sweden and Australia.

“Due to the unique situation in South Africa, these cannot just be implemented without an impact assessment study,” she said.

Personal injury lawyer Henry Shields shares Benson’s sentiments and added that if you crash at a speed of 120km/* , your chances of survival are slimmer than if you had been driving at 60km/* .

“Driving slower is safer and it also saves on fuel consumption. Everything in South Africa is political and the current speed limits, or rather the lack of enforcement thereof, is a literal death trap,” he said.

According to Klopper, however, it’s not realistic to compare South Africa to countries where the death toll is lower because population size plays a vital role.

“Countries like India and the US have massive populations. The problem in South Africa is that there is a total disregard for traffic laws. It’s habitual, people just don’t bother,” he said.

Klopper added that the US, with a population of 327million people, records around 38000 road deaths annually and India with a population of more than a billion, records around 150000 deaths per year.

Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith echoed the sentiment that the enforcement of speed restriction is key to reducing the annual carnage on our roads. He said there was much awareness, but drivers were still negligent.

“The City issues between 130 and 180000 fines per month, but the repayment rate is below 38%. In some provinces, it’s even below 9%. I believe we must increase the fine amounts, and hopefully this will have an impact on driver behaviour. I think we need to hit them where it hurts the most - in their pockets,” he said.

According to executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman, in the period January - March last year, 719005 traffic offences were recorded, with 1076 arrests, compared to 674661 offences recorded, with 1267 arrests in this year’s January - March period.

Weekend Argus

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