Why a zero-percent alcohol limit for drivers in South Africa won’t work

The Automobile Association (AA) said that changing traffic laws relating to drink driving is meaningless and will be ineffective if current laws that regulate alcohol and driving are not properly implemented and enforced first.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said earlier this week that the government plans to introduce new legislation around drinking and driving by December 2020.

The minister highlighted the proposed changes to the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit for drivers in South Africa, to be reduced to zero percent.

He first announced that he would introduce a 0% legal blood-alcohol limit, in February 2020.

The association said in a statement however, that drinking and driving can be more effectively combated by reducing the allowable alcohol limits for drivers, and that the courts should impose tougher sentences on offenders.

The current enforcement of drunk drivers will not stop those who regularly exceed the limits – because there are simply no consequences for their actions, the AA said, adding that a zero BAC limit is not going to change this.

The AA proposed that the 0.05% limit be reduced to 0.02% which is in place in many countries.

It said that the proposed move to reduce the legal limit to zero does not take into consideration the fact that some medications such as cough syrups may contain alcohol. In these cases drivers may find themselves with criminal records for taking one dose of this medication when it will have no material effect on their driving ability.

“Reducing the blood alcohol limit to zero will not solve the problem of road deaths in South Africa if it is not supported by a thorough, scientific diagnosis of the problem of drink driving with proper statistics which back such a move.

“Behavioural change is needed to solve this problem and that requires proper enforcement of existing laws, and more intensive education of the dangers of drunk driving, both of which do not currently occur,” said the AA.

The AA said that current analyses of drunk driving in South Africa are fragmented and disparate, with no conclusive findings besides those which call for greater research on the matter, a move it supports.

“But we cannot have a situation where the government is guessing to what extent alcohol is a contributor of road deaths with no actual plan to deal with the road safety crisis in South Africa as a whole other than to amend the law.

“This approach amounts to dealing with the issue of drunk driving without first addressing the issue of current enforcement and lack of education,” the association said.

“It is our view that people who drink and drive will not alter their behaviour because there are no consequences so they’re willing to take that gamble of being caught. Ensuring proper law enforcement should be the first step before amending laws. If law enforcement doesn’t change how it operates now, how will changing the law make a difference?”

The AA said that apart from these concerns, the overall safety of roads in South Africa should enjoy priority before amendments such as these are made.

“Pedestrian safety remains a huge concern but little is being to deal with this problem. Road safety requires a total approach which deals with vehicle safety, pedestrian safety, and more education on road safety,” the AA said.

Read: New alcohol rules in South Africa by December: minister

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Why a zero-percent alcohol limit for drivers in South Africa won’t work