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News Room

Everything You Need To Know About The New Breathalyzers

Jason Snyman
2019-02-06
There's a new breathalyzer in town, capable of busting you for drinking and driving on the spot. How does the EBAT work, is it reliable, and is it actually new?

This festive season saw brand new breathalyzers being rolled out by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department – called the Evidential Breath Alcotest Machine. Senior Superintendent of the JMPD, Wayne Minnaar, says that these new alcohol testing machines are capable of spitting out a blood alcohol content reading on the spot, negating any need for additional blood tests.

According to Minnaar, the new system can be adjusted to account for gender, male or female, and age.

Operational requirements for arresting a driver under the influence have been laid out and approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which include a docket containing the following:

• The officer's statement;

• The operator's statement;

• A certified copy of the operator's certificate;

• A certified copy of the calibration certificate;

• A certified copy of approval;

• A printout;

• A warning statement which has to be given to the accused as to why they have been arrested.

The new system makes this all a lot easier, with officers able to receive an immediate printout, without a blood sample. 

One copy is given to the driver, a second is attached the docket, and the other three copies are kept on file for when the case goes to court.

The previous system presented a couple of flaws, such as total reliance on blood samples, which are often delivered too late. Because of this, many cases never even reach the court. 

It's no secret that South Africa suffers from a major drinking and driving problem – the weekend before Christmas alone saw over 100 people in Gauteng arrested for drunken driving. 

If these new breathalysers work, then motorists who flout the rules of the road could soon be in for a very hard time.  

What Is The Limit Anyway?

It's 2019, and by now people should be pretty familiar with ride-hailing services such as Uber or Taxify. There's absolutely no excuse for drinking and driving, no matter how impromptu the get-together after a long day at work. 

The AA says:

It is a proven fact that your driving is impaired after even one unit of alcohol, so it is safer to not drink at all when you know you will be driving. Driving under the influence is a criminal offence, and it only takes one point over the limit to deal your fate – which could mean up to six years in prison.

For those who aren't really familiar with the limit or the law, here it is:

The legal alcohol limit in South Africa is a breath alcohol content of 0.2mg per 1000ml. If we're talking blood alcohol limit, then the limit is 0.05g per 100ml.

By law, you're allowed a maximum of one unit of alcohol per hour, which is all your body can process in that time. It's worth noting, though, that much of this depends on your weight. The less you weigh, the more time you'll need to process alcohol. 

So, how much is one unit of alcohol?

If you're talking about a beer, with 5% alcohol content, two thirds equal a unit. 75ml of red or white wine, with 12% - 14% alcohol content, can be enjoyed per hour. It gets a little rougher on hard liquor drinkers, such as whiskey or brandy, with only a single 25ml tot being allowed per hour. 

There are no quick fixes to beat the system and avoid getting arrested. The only cure is time, in which your liver will be working to process all that alcohol. 

Will The New Breathalyzer Work?

The new system is by no means new, contrary to belief. It has been used worldwide to some success, and before 2011, evidentiary testing was already being used all over South Africa. 

The use of the system was put on hold, following a challenge on the constitutionality of evidentiary breath alcohol testing after it was revealed that the brand of device being used (Dräger) was found to be faulty. This resulted in many motorists being unjustly arrested and unnecessarily dragged off to court. 

Now, when tested, two breath samples are taken. If the lower of these two samples is found to be over the limit, the driver will be charged and detained. 

Last year, the City of Cape Town even launched a Mobile Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Testing (EBAT) vehicle in a bid to fight the scourge of drunken driving. 

This EBAT vehicle was the second of its kind, with the first being deployed in Caledon, allowing officers to take evidentiary breath samples from suspected drunk motorists anywhere, at any time. The EBAT vehicles – which are basically converted panel vans – are deployed in road blocks and random breath testing operations.

With similar closed-source devices in the past (see the Dräger misadventure) being so prone to errors, riddled with problematic code, its little wonder that motorists are a little sceptical of the new machines. There have been numerous reports of breathalysers throwing out false positives – marking completely sober people as drunk – and with the new system able to land you in court in a hurry, it could turn out problematic.

And then, of course, there's the JMPDs well-documented history of corruption to think about.

So, worst case scenario, for an innocent person, is a machine that couldn't tell a drunken person from a nun, being used by a bribe-hungry officer with way too much power over you.    

But, here's hoping…

Even one drink behind the wheel is one too many. CompareGuru is South Africa's leading independent online insurance comparison site, and we know what's good.

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