Pretoria - Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has vowed that law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders will have no mercy on drunk drivers this festive season.
Mbalula was speaking at the handover of nine mobile Alcohol Evidence Centres in Centurion on Wednesday.
The centres, donated through collaboration between the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and the Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education, will be spread across the country to assist law enforcement at roadblocks.
He said the consumption of alcohol at the time of peak long-distance travel usually presented a major challenge for traffic law enforcement officers, as drinking and driving turned ordinary modes of transport into weapons of death and destruction.
He added that even research conducted by the Medical Research Council on behalf of the RTMC deduced that an estimated 27.1% of fatal crashes in South Africa were attributable to driver alcohol intoxication.
The same research, according to the minister, showed that pedestrians were three times likely to die when involved in a crash where the driver was intoxicated.
“It is precisely because of this, that we emphasise the prevention of drunk driving in our road safety education and law enforcement operations. The Alcohol Evidential Centres that were handed over to the RTMC will be of great assistance to our traffic officers in arresting and prosecuting drunk drivers.
“This equipment will assist in ensuring our officers stop many drunk drivers and remove them from the roads before they cause major destruction. This hand-over signifies our zero-tolerance approach to drunk driving and lawlessness on the roads. Our message to our officers is no more excuses, Azikhale, bopha,” he said.
To date, 365 people have been arrested for drunk driving since the start of the festive season, between December 1 to December 13. In Gauteng there have been 83 arrests, 84 in KwaZulu-Natal, and 63 in Limpopo.
South African Liquor Brandowners Association spokesperson Sibani Mngadi, who spoke on behalf of Aware.org at the event, said the collaboration between the two organisations had been one of the stories of success in dealing with rampant misuse of alcohol in the country.
Mngadi said the alcohol industry played an integral part in the revival of the tourism and hospitality sector, which were the hardest hit by the Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is evident that alcohol is an integral part of the tourism and hospitality sector. The operations of restaurants and hospitality establishments become financially unviable when you remove alcohol from the menu.
“Our economy simply cannot afford restrictions on domestic travel during this festive season. Domestic tourism during this festive season is the only hope for many establishments that have had cancellations due to the international travel bans,” he said.
Mngadi stressed that the purpose of this year’s deployment involved further collaboration between the National Traffic Police working with provincial liquor enforcement and focusing on the five provinces that contributed to 80% of the most road fatalities.
Mngadi said the deployment would cover both day and night periods to mitigate against the identified risks and fatal crashes occurring at night from December 13 to January 15.
This would be further boosted by 750 community patrollers who would, according to stakeholders, be instrumental in encouraging compliance with Covid-19 regulations at an outlet level, as well as promoting pedestrian safety as far as it relates to drinking and walking.
In addition to the nine mobile Alcohol Evidence Centres, 200 breathalysers were also handed over at the launch, to empower the traffic officers to screen and collate necessary evidence to deal with the problem of drinking and driving, Mngadi added.
“Our economy has shown that we can bounce back, despite the disastrous impact of Covid-19. We are committed to helping rebuild our economy, but we can only achieve this by allowing the tourism and hospitality industry to remain in business.
“The government has the full commitment of the alcohol sector to support measures to contain the spread and impact of Covid-19 by expanding the vaccination programme, and imposing common-sense limits to unsafe gatherings and encouraging all outlets to follow the basic health protocols of wearing face masks in public, social distancing, and basic hygiene,” he said.