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'Nowhere to hide for drunk drivers' - City of Cape Town launches second high-tech alcohol testing vehicle to help curb road carnage

2018-07-27 13:46

Image: City of Cape Town

The City Of Cape Town (CoCT) Traffic Service will launch a new Mobile Alcohol Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Testing (EBAT) vehicle, with the assistance of the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW) in a bid to fight drunk driving on our roads. 

The new EBAT vehicle will be the second unit of its type deployed in South Africa, joining a unit currently deployed by Provincial Traffic Services in the Caledon district.

According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation, between 14 000 and 17 000 people are killed on South African roads each year, of which close to 3000 are children. 

Research by the Medical Research Council indicates that nearly 50% of the drivers killed on our roads are under the influence of alcohol. 

The RTMC says: "Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol ("DUI’s") cause many thousands of serious injuries, including to children, who are extremely vulnerable on the roads.

These drivers damage public infrastructure (like street signs, traffic lights, barriers, etc) which must be repaired, costing ratepayers and taxpayers many millions of Rand each year. This directs money away from service delivery. 



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"People who choose to drink and drive also tie up ambulances, Emergency Rooms, Intensive Care Units and hospital beds, as well as police, who must be diverted from fighting other crimes.

"Therefore it is critical that every South African do whatever he or she can to combat the scourge of drinking and driving. For this reason, South African law enforcement authorities introduced Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Testing ("EBAT")."

                      MEC Donald Grant being tested in the new vehicle. Image: Department of Transport and Public Works / Byron le Hoe

What are EBAT vehicles and how do they work?

EBAT vehicles are specially converted panel vans equipped to enable officers to take evidentiary breath samples from motorists anywhere, any time. Positive samples can be used in court to convict motorists driving under the influence, removing the need for a blood test. The vehicles are deployed in support of roadblocks and Random Breath Testing (RBT) operations.

Western Cape MEC Donald Grant says: "DTPW provided training to the CoCT Operators and have provided CoCT with two Dräger 9510 ZA Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Testing machines, and the technical support and advice necessary to equip and deploy the new vehicle.

"DTPW was able to draw on its close co-operation with the Western Cape Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP) in a process that has seen the re-introduction of evidentiary breath alcohol testing in the Province."

The department says the EBAT system differs from blood tests in that the results are immediate. Motorists whose alcohol level is below the legal limit can be released immediately after receiving the results while with blood tests the motorist can be detained overnight or until the end of the weekend and can spend months facing legal uncertainty. Cases of motorists who fail the EBAT test can be dealt with quickly using the results of this test.

The City has met all prescripts and now ready to use the mobile evidentiary breath alcohol testing for illegal levels of alcohol in drivers.

Jacqui Gooch, DTPW Head of Department, says: "The vehicles are a force multiplier in the struggle to remove drunk drivers from the Province’s roads. They severely curtail the amount of wriggle room motorists who drink and drive have to try and avoid the consequences of their actions."

                                                      Image: Department of Transport and Public Works / Byron le Hoe

Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Testing

Evidentiary breath alcohol testing (EBAT) uses a machine which can read how much alcohol is in a person’s breath. It is called "evidentiary" as the reading can be produced as evidence to prosecute individuals accused of drinking and driving. This machine, the people who operate it, and the location it operates in, must all pass a very specific and demanding set of tests in order to be used to prosecute suspects.

The great advantage that EBAT has over other means of testing alcohol is that the results are known immediately. This means that if the person has been wrongly suspected by authorities, they will be cleared immediately, and can be released straight away.

With a blood test only, the result will not be known for some time and thus an individual may be detained for some time, often overnight or the course of a weekend, and thereafter face a long period of uncertainty while waiting for blood test results. On the other hand, if the person is found to be over the legal limit by an evidentiary breathalyser, then the case can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.  

Before 2011, EBAT was used all over South Africa. It has also been used successfully around the world as a tool to tackle drinking and driving. The device most commonly used in South Africa was a brand known as "Dräger".

"The use of evidentiary breath alcohol testing was halted for a while by the National Prosecuting Authority following a challenge on the constitutionality of evidentiary breath alcohol testing.

A court case (The State vs Hendrickse) ensued and the plaintiff found not guilty for drunk driving. Shortcomings with the equipment training of staff and testing procedures identified during this case have subsequently been addressed and we are confident that the results obtained through the EBAT equipment can successfully be used in a court of law," said Advocate Kyle Reinecke, Deputy Director-General for Transport Management at DTPW. 

When tested, two breath samples are taken. If the lower of the two test results is not less than 0.24mg of alcohol per 1 000ml of breath, the driver will be charged. 

If you know of someone who drinks and drives please encourage them to stop this behaviour, before it results in a criminal conviction, or worse, the death or injury to themselves or another person.

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