South Africa launches new drunk driving system ahead of Easter – here’s what you need to know

 ·8 Apr 2019

The minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande, launched the 2019 Easter road safety campaign on Monday (8 April) at an event in KwaZulu-Natal.

As part of the launch, Nzimande demonstrated the new Evidential Breathalyser Alcohol Test (EBAT) system which will begin being implemented on the country’s roads.

First launched by the Western Cape in 2016, the system aims to combat drunk driving by providing immediate, accurate information on a driver’s intoxication level.

Speaking to BusinessTech, Department of Transport spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, said that the new system is a keystone of the Easter campaign with mobile EBAT offices being rolled out from now until the end of October.

Mnisi said that the department already had four centres in place – including one in KZN and the Western Cape, and two in Gauteng – with plans to open one in every province going forward.

How it works

Because the results of an EBAT test are instant the case can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

According to the Western Cape Government, this is a vast improvement over the older blood tests system which could lead to motorists being detained overnight or until the end of the weekend and can spend months facing legal uncertainty as they waited for the results.

Missing and incorrect results were also relatively common under the previous system.

Because the results of an EBAT test are instant the case can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. Below is a brief outline of how it works:

  • The EBAT system uses a machine that can read the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath;
  • When tested, two breath samples must be taken. If the lower of the two EBAT test results is not less than 0,24 mg of alcohol per 1,000 ml of breath, the driver will be charged;
  • The instrument will be fitted with a temperature sensor in the hose to regulate the exhaling breath of the subject.;
  • It is called “evidentiary” as the reading can be produced as evidence to prosecute people accused of drinking and driving. The results are immediate;
  • This machine, the people who operate it, and the location it operates in, must all pass a very specific and demanding set of tests in order to be used to prosecute suspects.

Stricter rules coming 

As part of his Easter road campaign, Nzimande made it clear that his department would be coming down hard on drunk driving in South Africa, with plans to make it a ‘serious offence’.

Mnisi said that this would include a push to have drunk driving rescheduled from a schedule 3 to a schedule 5 offence.

This would place drunk driving in the same ‘category’ of crimes as rape and murder.

“If you have killed someone while drunk driving you will be charged criminally and not just civilly,” Mnisi said.

“This means that you will face jail time of no less than 15 years.”

Speaking to BusinessTech in March, Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) said that it would also push for arrested drivers to spend at least seven days behind bars before they can be considered for bail.

Read: Big push to introduce new South African drunk driving laws

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