Government plans to take some of the lessons learned during the Covid pandemic and turn them into permanent laws – including rules around alcohol and driving.
A new 706-page report on South Africa’s Covid lockdown and restrictions shows a clear connection between alcohol use and the number of accidents seen on South Africa’s roads.
“Traffic accident numbers are directly influenced by the number of vehicle kilometres travelled and alcohol intake, both of which were significantly lower during the lockdown,” researchers said in the report published on Thursday (30 June).
“When vehicle volumes on major roads fell dramatically after lockdown, relative to the same period in the previous year, so did fatal accidents. Particularly striking was the massive reduction in fatal crashes during the Easter period. As restrictions were slowly eased, accident numbers started to rise again.”
The report cited data from the eThekwini Transport Authority which shows an 85% decrease in the number of crashes in April 2020, compared to previous years. Under alert level 2, the number of crashes increased but remained much lower than in the previous year. Worth noting is that crash numbers in eThekwini fell further than did traffic flow levels, the researchers said.
“This disproportionate decrease in crashes probably reflects the banning of alcohol sales. Most of the 2020/21 festive season took place under alert level 3, when alcohol was still banned. The Department of Transport reported a 10.3% year-on-year reduction in fatal crashes nationally, along with a 7% reduction in fatalities in this period.”
Based on the lessons learnt from the banning of alcohol and its impact on road crashes, the department plans to amend the National Road Traffic Act to reduce the blood alcohol level limit for drivers to zero and also to introduce severe penalties for drunk driving.
It further wishes to extend penalties to every form of intoxicated driving, including the use of drugs.
The national government is currently considering amendments to the National Road Traffic Act which will reduce the legal blood alcohol limits for drivers to zero.
Included in the bill is an amendment of Section 65 which effectively changes the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for drivers from 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres to 0.00g/100ml, and the breath alcohol concentration from 0.24g/1,000ml also to zero.
However, the proposed changes have faced criticism from civil society groups who warn that drivers can show higher blood alcohol levels after taking some medications or eating certain food groups, leading to false positives.