BERND FISCHER

As students – and therefore natural-born party animals – you have all been in that terrifying situation before or know someone who has been stopped by traffic cops on the way home after a night out. Most of the time, you get away unscathed because you “only had one drink”.

However, if the Department of Transport and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) get their way, drinking and driving may become impossible. Changes to the Road Traffic Amendment Bill have been proposed and one amendment includes reducing the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) from 0,05g/100ml to 0,02g/100ml. BAC is generally better understood as a percentage of alcohol in the blood. Therefore, a BAC of 0,02g/100ml means that 0,02% of a person’s blood is alcohol.

This means that by law, one alcoholic drink would leave you incapable of driving. According to Gary Ronald, spokesperson for the Automobile Association (AA), drivers would be limited to two-thirds of a 340ml can of beer; 25ml of whiskey, vodka or brandy; or 75ml of red wine, drunk an hour before driving.

Supporters of the new law insist that South Africa requires such legislation due to the high number of road accidents which are attributed to drinking and driving. “Over weekends, research has proven conclusively, in more than 65% of all major fatal crashes, that alcohol consumption was a major factor, either by a driver or a pedestrian,” says RTMC spokesperson Ashref Ismail. The RTMC and AA have both fully backed the proposed bill.

Research gathered by the department and South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD) shows that at least 14 000 people die on our roads annually, translating to an average of 40 road deaths a day, many of them resulting from alcohol-related incidences.

In spite of this, not everyone is in agreement over the possible new law. The current BAC limit is up to standard internationally, according to the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol use (ARA). South Africa is currently one of many countries including Egypt, Thailand and Belgium that draw the line at the 0,05% mark.

Adrian Botha, spokesperson for ARA, suggests that the focus should be on enforcing the current law instead. “It’s the same thing as saying we are going to stop 13 year olds from drinking by increasing the drinking age from 18 to 21,” argues Botha. “Making the government feel good by changing the levels is not going to fix the problem. It’s very easy to change the level but if you’re not enforcing it, it is a joke.”

Robin Carlisle, Western Cape Transport MEC, has criticised the new amendment, arguing that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that lowering the legal alcohol limit would result in fewer road accidents. In fact, he believes it could result in fewer prosecutions. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has supported Carlisle’s argument, saying: “The [DPP] is of the opinion that it may influence the outcome of the use of breathalysers due to the impact that psychological factors may have, […] thereby jeopardising successful prosecution.”

Carlisle also confirms that in 2012, the Western Cape has recorded the lowest number of road deaths seen in the past four years. He insists that drivers have become more cautious without a change in law and that current efforts are reaping the rewards. SAGoodNews.co.za reports that from October 2010 to September 2011 roughly 20 000 drunk drivers were arrested across all nine provinces.

SADD Director Caro Smit told Perdeby that the organisation fully supports the proposed amendment and that many students’ lives will be saved. According to Smit, the first year after obtaining a driver’s license is when most accidents and deaths occur. Smit insists there are additional benefits to the law. “It may also help to bring down binge drinking which affects attending lectures and studying,” she says. SADD strongly believes that more attention should be given to alcohol education on a school and university level.

Chané Jacobs, a second-year student studying psychology and criminology, agrees: “It’s not fair for innocent people to be killed just because others on the road are intoxicated. The government is just trying to enforce safety for the sake of everyone.”

As expected, most students oppose the possible new regulation. Paola Bressan, a second-year BCom Marketing Management student, has voiced the majority’s opinion: “It’s ridiculous because you can’t even go out and have a drink with friends without being worried you’ll be stopped by the cops and get arrested,” she says. Bressan does however argue that those who purposefully go out and get drunk when they are responsible to drive should be punished.

This call for change has resulted in a nationwide debate. One thing is certain: as a country with one of the highest incidences of drinking and driving in the world, South Africa should change its attitude towards this matter. It remains unknown whether limiting oneself to simply having “one for the road” will do just that.

Photo: Hendro Van Der Merwe

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