Law enforcement authorities and civil rights organisations feel that too many of those who take to the streets under the influence of alcohol feel comfortable to do so, as they consider it a social norm that will see them face minimal consequences.
This week, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) released their June 2019 crime statistics, which revealed that, once again, driving under the influence of alcohol remains a top concern across the city.
This, too, was the case in previous months, with the police naming the inner city and Soweto, where alcohol is easily accessible at the several pubs, bars and taverns in these densely populated areas, as the locations where the highest number of drunk-driving arrests were made.
In June, a total of 890 people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Other top crimes in this month were hijacking and vehicle theft, with 28 arrests made.
There were 24 arrests for the possession of unlicensed firearms and common robbery.
Malicious damage to property, with 21 arrests and the possession of drugs, which saw 12 people getting arrested in June, were the other crimes recorded as the top six offences in the JMPD’s report.
Despite the severity of these other crimes, the JMPD statistics revealed drunk-driving to be their biggest battle.
Reflecting on this report, Johannesburg MMC for Public Safety Michael Sun told The Saturday Star that motorists needed to change their mindsets if driving under the influence of alcohol was to be combated.
“The public feels that a glass or two of wine or beer over a meal out is a socially accepted norm and would not attract any consequences,” he said.
“Some people take the gamble that nothing will happen unless they are caught, but the major factor, in my opinion, is that the punishment does not fit the crime, as many will get off based on legal technicalities or a light sentence which does not serve as a deterrence to the crime.”
These sentiments were echoed by South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD) director Caro Smit, who lambasted drunk-drivers for putting themselves and other innocent lives at risk when they operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
“Drunk-driving is a problem because people have been able to get away with it for so long that they think it is acceptable.”
Smit, whose son died after being hit by a car which was driven by a drunk motorist, added that many people don’t regard this as a serious crime.
While JMPD spokesperson Senior Superintendent Wayne Minnaar believes that the reason for the high rate of drunk-driving arrests is an increase in the number of JMPD operations, Smit does not agree.
“I think they (the drunk-driving arrests) are actually low, as only 14 people on average are caught at each roadblock in different areas,” she explained.
“People should be tested morning, noon and night, every day of the month, as opposed to only on average during seven roadblocks a month per region.
“‘The city should aim at testing every single citizen at least once a year at least.”
Despite SADD’s plea for more police operations to be conducted to curb drunk-driving, the JMPD’s report revealed that a total of 92 roadside checks were conducted in June where 2930 vehicles were stopped and 2503 were searched.
Sun said that apart from the JMPD’s weekly operations the city was also focusing on drunk-driving through public awareness and engagement sessions in a bid to spread the message of road safety.
“I have always said that it is your choice how to get home after a night out - either sober in your own car or taxi, or a free ride in a JMPD patrol car to the police station, or worse, in an ambulance to the hospital, or worst of all, in a mortuary van to the morgue.”
Sun added that the city had also formed a partnership with a variety of stakeholders as they sought to undertake initiatives to reduce drunk driving.
This included the memorandum of understanding between the City of Johannesburg and SA Breweries.
The MMC also believes that the Gauteng Liquor Board should practise more caution when issuing liquor licenses in Johannesburg.
He believes this to especially be the case in the inner city and Soweto, where there has regularly been a high rate of drunk driving arrests and an abundance of drinking establishments.
“It is also absurd that we are seeing the high number of liquor licences issued in the city,” he said.
Meanwhile, Smit believes that those found to be driving under the influence of alcohol should face more time in jail.