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Forensic expert: '0% won't save lives'

2015-02-09 05:59

BETTER ENFORCEMENT NEEDED: Dr Gavin Kirk says that rather than changing laws, better enforcement is neededImage: YouTube

DR GAVIN KIRK - Western Cape Forensic Pathology Service

As a number of correspondents have correctly pointed out, the proposed changes to the legal blood-alcohol limit will do nothing to reduce the appalling death toll on our roads.

While drunk drivers are undoubtedly an important factor in causing deaths on our roads, this is not the way to improve the situation. That is because it is not based on any evidence and appears to be an attempt to ‘do something’ about the situation even if it makes no sense.

What is the evidence?


In a national survey of transport fatalities conducted at South African medico-legal mortuaries in 2004 it was found that 50% of drivers who died in road traffic collisions tested positive for alcohol – a very strong indication of the link of alcohol to fatal collisions.

However, the mean blood alcohol concentration in these drivers was 0.17g/100ml, which is more than three times the current legal limit. While this study is ten years old, there is no reason to suspect that the situation is any different today.

VIDEO: Dr Gavin Kirk speaks on proposed zero blood-alcohol limit
VIDEO: Dr Gavin Kirk shed's light on 'lost test' results

This clearly shows that the problem lies with heavily intoxicated drivers rather than those who are below the current 0.05g/100ml limit. Incidentally, the same study showed that 60% of pedestrian fatalities tested positive for alcohol and their mean blood alcohol concentration was a staggering 0.21g/100ml.


There are other problems that arise out of the proposed changes. A number of high profile cases have already shown how vulnerable laboratory results can be to challenge in court. This will become ever more so if drivers whose blood alcohol concentrations are close to zero are prosecuted.

Those proposing the changes are obviously unaware of the fact that we all produce small amounts of endogenous alcohol naturally within our bodies and that any laboratory analysis must provide for a reasonable margin of error.

The proposed law would be fertile ground for defence attorneys!

Rather than changing the law in a way that will do nothing to reduce fatal collisions, what needs to be done is to properly enforce the current law.

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