The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) has been highly critical of government proposals to amend the Road Traffic Act to reduce the legal alcohol limits to zero, claiming the proposals - if they become law - will criminalise innocent motorists and are unlikely to have the results authorities think they will.
The AA was reacting on Monday to the National Road Traffic Amendments Bill, which was published at the end of October 2020.
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 0.24 g/1000 ml also to zero.
The AA said although the stated reason for the change is the promotion of road safety, these proposed changes are concerning at a number of levels because within the current framework of traffic law enforcement, nothing will change except that innocent drivers are likely to be criminalised.
“For instance, someone who is using medication that contains alcohol will now be arrested, charged and possibly prosecuted for having a small dose of alcohol in their blood while their driving ability has not been impaired,” the AA said.
The association questioned how traffic law enforcement will change to accommodate this proposed amendment and how a single piece of legislation will change drivers’ attitudes when nothing else around traffic law enforcement changes at the same time.
“We need to be in a situation where people are afraid to drive if they have been drinking, and we stand by our messaging of drink or drive. However, within this framework – and the interventions we have outlined – we believe a reduction of the BAC limit to 0.02g/100ml would be a more effective, just and appropriate approach to drunk driving in the country,” it said.
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has been a staunch supporter of the Bill, claiming it will curb alcohol-related vehicle accidents, save lives and the state billions in social grants and pay-outs by the Road Accident Fund
Mbalula said earlier this year that research conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) in collaboration with the SA Medical Research Council and the University of South Africa (Unisa) revealed that driver alcohol intoxication accounts for 27.1% of fatal crashes in the country, which costs the economy an estimated R18.2 billion a year.
However, the AA said that legally reducing the BAC to zero is not the answer, adding it did not believe the amendments relating to the alcohol levels will have a material impact on South Africa’s “abysmal road fatality statistics” without proper and implementable actions.
“We cannot have a situation where authorities are amending legislation in the hope that this will change our shocking crash statistics. The average of 13 000 deaths on our roads annually is a national crisis, and amending this one piece of legislation is not going to make a difference unless those interventions we mention all the time are also implemented,” it said.
The AA said motorists who drink and drive must assume they will be arrested, adding that there are many alternatives available to those who want to drink and still be mobile.
It stressed that simply drafting legislation does not equate to meaningful road safety intervention and other more important steps must be taken. These include a more intense, widespread and constant focus on national road safety education, an increase in the number of traffic law enforcement officers, and improved prosecution of current drunk driver cases.
The AA said another important aspect of effective traffic policing is to ensure law enforcement is visible and active around known areas of drinking and driving, and that proper action is taken against offenders.
The association said it will be making submissions to Parliament about the proposed amendments before the 20 November 2020 deadline.
The amendments also aim to eradicate corruption at vehicle license test centres and to regulate driving schools.
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