New alcohol rules will just do more damage to the economy: experts

The government’s plan to introduce new legislation around drinking and driving will deal another blow to the country’s hospitality industry, says Hospitality consultant Neil Bald.

Bald told special travel website Tourism Update that the amendment will have a significant impact on the tourism and restaurant industry in South Africa, which is already reeling from two alcohol bans and restrictions around the sale of alcohol.

“The hospitality industry is in favour of controlling and managing liquor, but it needs to be done in a way that is cognisant of the consequences,” he said.

This was echoed by David Marsh, founder of the Travel Industry Golf Club, who said that the amendment was likely to lead directly to job losses.

“The number of jobs that will be lost is going to be significant. Many people will either not attend an event because of the cost of getting there and back, or will not even have one drink.

“Either way, clubs, restaurants, hotels, meeting and wedding venues and car hire can expect to shrink,” he said.

Problems with enforcement

The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) has also warned that changing traffic laws relating to drunk driving is meaningless and will be ineffective if current laws that regulate alcohol and driving are not properly implemented and enforced first.

The Association says 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 says a zero limit is not going to change this behaviour.

“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.

Behavioural change needed

Real change will depend on a change in behaviour and not just legislation alone, says the managing director of MasterDrive Eugene Herbert.

“Someone who does not respect the current BAC limit, is unlikely to respect a lower one. Those who will obey a 0% BAC limit, are likely not the ones who break the current limit,” he said.

We need to accept that a real difference can only be made by changing the drinking behaviour of drunk drivers, he said.

“A change in behaviour can only be realised once people truly understand how dangerous and destructive drinking and driving can be. The onus is on society, corporates and individuals to initiate this change.”

Herbert used the analogy of vehicles that easily reach speed of 200km/h to better understand why changing the alcohol level will have limited efficacy.

“Many cars are more than capable of travelling at this speed but does the responsibility of not recklessly driving at high speed lie with the manufacturer?

“The answer is no, and societal perception appears to concur with this as there are no calls for manufacturers to stop designing cars that can be driven at high speed.”

Instead, the onus to drive responsibly is placed on the driver and, failing that, penalties form law enforcement, said Herbert.

“As ineffective as it would be to ban performance and sports cars, so would it be to try ban drink driving all together. Instead the key lies in showing people who drink and drive (or reckless drivers) just how dangerous it is and consequently, change behaviour.”

New rules by December

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says that government plans to introduce new legislation around drinking and driving by December 2020.

He said that the Road Traffic Amendment Bill was introduced in parliament in June 2020, with the legislation effectively introducing a 0% alcohol limit for all motorists.

The minister said that under the amended act, no one will be able to drive a vehicle, or occupy the driver’s seat while the engine is running, with any concentration of alcohol in their system.

“Research conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) in collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council and the University of South Africa shows that driver alcohol intoxication accounts for 27.1% of fatal crashes in the country.”

“This is estimated to cost the economy R18.2 billion annually,” Mbalula said. “As indicated by this study and many observations including the recent death of TMPD officers, we need to strengthen the law and ensure that Innocent lives are saved.”

Read: Cape Town moves towards stricter alcohol laws – here are the planned changes

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New alcohol rules will just do more damage to the economy: experts