South Africa is set to introduce amongst the harshest drink-driving laws in the world, making it illegal to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol. The new law has been drafted and awaits only presidential approval before coming into effect. This law would make it illegal to drive with any alcohol in your system, a significant tightening of the existing 0.05 BAC limit, which is also used by Australia. Not only is it illegal to drive with alcohol in your system, but even sitting behind the wheel of a running car (even if stationary) can get you charged for drink driving.
Why is such a drastic policy needed?
The government has received local support for the new policy, a sentiment that has been puzzling to many Australians who assume the 0.05 general alcohol limit is effective. This difference in opinion can be explained by South Africa's dismal record of road safety which have caused countless deaths over the years. The International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group found that in 2017, there were 25 road deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, among the worst ratios in the world. This resulted in 14,050 recorded deaths compare to Australia's road deaths of 1,225 for the same period. A 2015 World Health Organisation report suggests that of road fatalities in South Africa, 58% involve alcohol. The National Road Safety Strategy aimed to reduce road deaths by 50% between 2010 and 2020, yet numbers have still been rising. The staggering numbers have provided support for drastic action on the road safety front.
Why have South Africa's road fatality rates been so high despite the same.05 restrictions as Australia being in place?
This is a complex question that has roots in many other factors. A country which only made a seatbelt use compulsory in 2005, South Africa has always struggled with road safety. Despite the same legal limits as in Australia, South Africa has a higher amount of drunk driving accidents due to lack of stigma for drink driving among the general population.
It has also been found that a majority of South Africans exceed stated road limits, and high pedestrian traffic areas commonly have speed limits too high to prevent injury or death to individuals. Low seatbelt usage, unsafe vehicles and poorly planned areas with high pedestrian traffic are other factors which have been blamed for the unsafe roads.
The Experiment: South Africa now joins countries such as Czech Republic, Hungary, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam in introducing a zero-tolerance approach to alcohol on the roads. Only time will tell whether this approach is more effective at preventing accidents compared to more commonly used limits such as .05 or .02. The new law may be a strong sign that the government will not tolerate drink driving and contribute to a much-needed attitude change among the population. It is also consistent with scientific advice that there is no safe level at which you can drink and drive. But critics of these new laws will be quick to point out that most accidents resulting in injury occur at higher ranges of alcohol consumption above .05. Regardless of one's belief about the appropriate drink driving limits, it is clear that a new push for road safety is necessary to stem such needless loss of life.
Tell us your thoughts: As drivers on alcohol- restricted driving licences, what are your thoughts on the proposed law changes in South Africa?