They’re bringing the hammer down, and driving under the influence could now see you facing some serious consequences. The Road Traffic Management Corp (RTMC) has tabled a proposal with the Department of Justice that could see harsher drunk driving rules come into effect before the end of the year.
Driving under the influence (DUI), speeding and reckless or negligent driving could all be reclassified, in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.
DUI, in particular, could change from a schedule 2 to a schedule 5 offence – putting drunk driving on par with horrific crimes such as murder or rape.
For the cherry on top, the RTMC also proposes that drivers arrested will have to spend a minimum of seven days behind bars before they may even be considered for bail.
“Currently, if we arrest you for drunk driving you can be granted bail in terms of section 59 of the Criminal Procedure Act, and the senior person at the police station can offer bail,” said RTMC CEO, Makhosini Msibi.
If escalated to a schedule 5 offence, however, those drivers will then have to submit a formal bail application in court.
Msibi has also stated that vehicle fatalities cost the country R170 billion last year alone, an increase of R9 billion from the previous year.
The bulk of this was related to medical and insurance claims, and, according to Msibi, represented money that could have been poured into essential services. This is allegedly part of the reasoning behind the proposed changes, to put a damper on the rising financial costs incurred by the government.
Msibi also noted that the current system is flawed, in that inebriated drivers could be granted bail and get out of jail within mere hours of being arrested.
The RTMC looks set to embark on a rampage, however, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a look at some of the other factors.
According to crime stats, drunk and negligent driving accounts for the largest amount of arrests made by the JMPD and SAPS on a monthly basis.
It has long been thought that the punishments for drunk driving are too lenient, given what a complete scourge it becomes over the weekends and holiday periods. The RTMC is now aiming to ‘send a message’ to any offenders.
So, not only are drunk drivers and speed-demons looking at spending an entire week in jail before even being considered for bail, but drivers who kill are also looking at facing much harsher sentences.
On the topic of those charged with death by dangerous driving, Msibi openly called out taxi drivers for their insane, inattentive and inconsiderate driving habits.
“It’s mainly public transport giving us these headaches. When they crash and kill a passenger, it’s a culpable homicide charge. That’s just a slap in the face, nothing more.”
Msibi staked a claim for the maximum punishment for these offences to be increased from nine years to a minimum of 15 years behind bars.
The RTMC CEO also fired a couple of shots at law enforcement, saying that major operations are currently underway against traffic officers who are willing to turn a blind eye to drunk driving offences in exchange for bribes. According to Msibi, several employees in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga are due to face disciplinary action for corrupt practices.
And, naturally, ‘drug-driving’ will be treated exactly the same as drunk driving. The recent dagga ruling still requires a lot of legal classification, but with personal home-use of marijuana being legalised, it has been stressed that those who drive while high will still face the same severe consequences as those who drive drunk.
Msibi said that the RTMC is looking to have the proposals passed into law any time after the 2019 General Election.
Naturally, news of the proposed changes has been met with a fair amount of criticism. Professor James Grant of the School of Law at Wits University, for example, said that an umbrella approach would be futile. A better way to crack down on traffic offences, he suggested, would be to have more traffic officers on the roads, strictly enforcing the current, existing laws.
The idea that you're going to curb traffic offences and solve the problem by making it harder to get bail is preposterous, he said.
What will curb crime is not the severity of punishment but the certainty of punishment. So if they could get out onto the road and actually enforce the law, that could make a significant difference.
Professor Grant also said that it is absurd to equate speeding with the likes of rape and murder, and that it would only make sense to classify DUI as a schedule 5 offence if it plays a role in a fatal traffic accident.