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News Room

SA's New Zero-Tolerance Drunk Driving Laws

Jason Snyman
2020-02-07
South Africa's strict new drunk driving laws may be in effect from as soon as June 2020, including a zero-tolerance 0% legal blood-alcohol limit, and far, far harsher punishments for those found guilty.

Back in 2018, the Road Traffic Management Corp (RTMC) tabled a proposal with the Department of Justice that would see far harsher punishments implemented for drunk drivers. 

This includes the reclassification of many schedule 2 offences (such as driving under the influence (DUI), speeding, reckless / negligent driving) to schedule 5 offences, and would, in effect, place drunk driving in the same schedule of crimes as heinous as murder or rape.  

For the cherry on top, the RTMC also proposed that persons arrested for drunk driving would have to spend a minimum of seven days behind bars before they may even be considered for bail.

The RTMC is still adamant on pushing these changes through, and the corporation is currently in talks with the Department of Justice to put the proposed legal amendments through the full public commentary process

These aren’t the only changes on the way. The government also plans on introducing a zero-tolerance approach to drunk driving, with the new regulations due to be introduced as soon as June 2020.

Let’s take a look at what this means.

Zero-Tolerance To Drunk Driving

As it currently stands, the National Road Traffic Act (NRA) still allows those who have consumed alcohol to get behind the wheel, provided, of course, that they are under the blood alcohol limit.

For the average driver, the concentration of alcohol in any blood specimen must be less than 0.05 gram per 100 millilitres. This law currently allows for the consumption of (generally) one unit of alcohol per hour, which is all the human body can process in that time. 

So, if we're talking about beer, at 5% alcohol content, then roughly two thirds of a bottle will equate to a unit. Likewise, 75ml of red or white wine, at 12% - 14% alcohol content, equals a unit. With harder liquor, such as whiskey or brandy, just a single 25ml tot equates to a full unit of alcohol. 

It's worth noting, however, that much of this depends on your own weight. The less you weigh, the more time you'll need to process alcohol. 

But, according to Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, this is all scheduled to change. 

The new zero-tolerance approach to drunk driving, due to be implemented by June 2020, means that motorists will no longer be permitted to consume any alcohol at all before getting behind the wheel. It’s a 0% legal blood-alcohol limit.

According to Mbalula, the new restriction is but the first of many that will work alongside the new AARTO Act (which includes the controversial Demerit System).

Backlash To Proposed Changes

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, and regarding the legal amendments proposed to the Department of Justice, the RTMC has faced considerable backlash since day one. 

CEO of the RTMC, Makhosini Msibi, has called the current system flawed, in that inebriated drivers could be granted bail and released from jail within mere hours of being arrested. 

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.

With drunk driving reclassified as a schedule 5 offence, however, then the guilty party would have to appear in court to submit a formal bail application. 

Professor James Grant of the School of Law at Wits University, however, 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, he said, is preposterous.

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.

On the topic of those charged with death by dangerous driving, Msibi has staked a claim for the maximum punishment for these offences to be increased from nine years to a minimum of fifteen years behind bars, and has also 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.

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