ZERO LIMIT THE ANSWER? Do you think a zero blood alcohol limit will reduce road deaths? Many readers don't think so... Image: Shutterstock
A former very senior member of the state's legal machinery has responded emphatically to the proposed 'zero alcohol' proposition: "It won't work!"
Wheels24 reported on Wednesday (Feb 4 2015) that the government is proposing a zero blood-alcohol limit and the public has until February 27 to respond.
A proposal to cut to ZERO the current maximum alcohol level of 0.05g/100 ml of blood was published earlier in January 2015 in the Government Gazette. The amended bill reads:
"No person shall on a public road (a) drive a vehicle or (b) occupy the driver's seat of a motor vehicle the engine of which is running, while THERE IS concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken from any part of his or her body." Which means ANY alcohol at all.
FORMER PUBLIC PROSECUTOR SPEAKS
Wheels24 reader and former deputy director of public prosecutions, the now retired (in 2010) Ross Stuart, was quick to respond to the story:
Blood-alcohol testing simply takes too long and reducing the levels is pointless if there is, in effect, no enforcement. What is required, as a matter of urgency, is legislation to overcome the hurdles put in the way of breath-testing by the Western Cape High Court.
With instant results provided by breath-testing, enforcement can be done properly and effectively. The infrastructure is in place.
HURDLES WITH TECH
The hurdles relate to the the breath testing machine and the use thereof. The particular device concerned was a Drager Breath Testing machine.
I was responsible for the importing of such a machine from Australia in the late 90s for trial purposes with a view to it being used by KZN's Road Traffic Inspectorate. With no training whatsoever I and my kids were able to operate the device. It was that simple!
The court held, however, that the particular operator who had conducted the breathalyser test , was insufficiently trained and failed to follow the standard operating procedures prescribed in the operator's manual, the legislative framework and the prosecution guidelines.
The extent of the failure impaired the legal validity of the test result. There was no proof placed before the court that the operator had ever been trained to operate the Drager Alcotest with its current software. (Thanks to article by Bowman and Gilfillan Jan 3 2012)
With all due respect this is nonsense…
The device takes you through the procedure and I do not believe that it will work if you make any slip-ups on the way to the result.
I do not believe that the concerns of the judge in the case were real from a practical point of view and the cost to the country of not being able to make use of the device , is enormous. I am not a legal draughtsman but I do not believe that it should be difficult to draw up legislation to remove the problems of the judge.
A zero tolerance policy which we had in KZN at one stage bore fruits but the policy was eroded over the years. Zero alcohol when driving would certainly have an effect if enforced. It should be remembered that not every case is required to be prosecuted.
If someone was stopped and showed a very low concentration of alcohol and could show that it was a result of some medication, no prosecutor who is worth his/her salt, would prosecute.
There is always a discretion that can be excercised to eliminate the appropriate cases. When it comes to the matter of what could be done to reduce road deaths in this country, I could write a book about it.
I was a member of Project Victoria which was the brainchild of then transport MEC Sbu Ndebele and considerable progress was made for a while until the principles established were just completely ignored and essentially abandoned.
Stuart was the deputy director of public prosecutions until he retired in 2010 and was previously responsible for traffic prosecutions in kwaZulu-Natal.
Here's what other readers had to say:
Paddy Ross: "This proposal is absolutely ridiculous! What happens to the many people who receive communion wine during Sunday church services? Will they become 'killers' on the road? Instead, concentrate police monitoring of those who drive when well in excess of the current legal limits - they are the potential killers."
Lilian: "I don't drink at all but feel this law is just pathetic. I do get the 'flu from time to time and would probably use cough mixture. So now I will be criminalised for being sick? It's not new laws we need but the enforcement of existing ones.
"Comparing these laws to those of other countries is like comparing grapes with apples. Those countries are First World and have public transport to match. There is no such thing, especially at night, in this country."
Dawie Coetzee: "There is no logic in trying to reduce drunk driving by outlawing pretty-much-sober driving. It's even worse - making pretty-much-sober driving legally identical to roaring-drunk driving means making roaring-drunk driving legally identical to pretty-much-sober driving.
"As the saying goes, 'might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb'. So, if you've had one, why not another eight?
"I believe blood alcohol should be measured in certain situations, so that the evidence is subsequently available but the fixed limit should be abolished. Blood-alcohol evidence can then be considered in court together with any other relevant facts (i.e. was the person a 'responsible drunk' who knew that they were in no fit state to drive and drove in a manner according?).
'ONLY FOOLS DRIVE DRUNK'
Alicia Louise: "Only fools drive drunk. The blind-drunk driver, because of his/her 'relaxed and intoxicated' state, is usually not on the casualty list. The passengers and innocent people in other cars are killed. Many drunk-driving crashes occur on the wrong side of the road.
"I have lost many sober friends in this way. I have never (been driving since I was 12, funny but true) driven with alcohol in my system.
"When we dine out, I do not drink wine or any other alcohol and I drive home. The Gordon's Bay road has become a death trap, as is Sir Lowry's Road. On Monday mornings the signs of crashes, as people drive drunk from too many pubs and eateries, is painfully obvious."
Nicol Moodie: "This proposal borders on the stupendously stupid if not downright idiotic.
"So if you have had a few – how long will you have to wait before you drive? Remember the two-hour rule for taking of the sample is just to be able to say that when you were driving your blood alcohol level was at that level. The alcohol stays in your blood much longer. How long is determined by a lot of factors (of which bodyweight is one).
"If you had a lot to drink the night before and went home by taxi – you may still have some alcohol in your system when you drive to work the next morning – how do they propose to deal with this? Existing legislation is good enough – enforcement and the administrative processes need to be addressed. Get more labs going etc."
Wheels24 says: "Countries around the world that have drink/driving laws have set a low alcohol level - such as the 0.05 and 0.02g/100ml in South Africa - precisely because of that which Justice Project SA's Howard Dembovsky outlined. A few teaspoons of cough mixture will be enough to signal an illegal-alcohol reading in a road block.
"We're going to send people to jail for the weekend because they have a cold? Please guys, a little common sense here."
Vote on Wheels24's 'zero alcohol' poll, write in the Readers' Comments section below, or email us at Wheels24 with your thoughts.