A draft law sets SA’s drunk-driving limit to zero – and govt is keen to get it enacted

Business Insider SA
Drunk driving
  • The National Road Traffic Amendment Bill is out, and as promised it takes a tough line on drunk driving.
  • Cabinet approved the draft law in March, saying it would help make law enforcement easier.
  • It does so, in part, by proposing to scrap references to specific blood alcohol levels from current legislation.
  • That leaves the penalties unchanged – but sets the permissible blood alcohol level for anyone operating a motor vehicle to zero.
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South Africa could have a drunk-driving limit of zero before the end of the year, if government has its way, with full criminal penalties for anyone caught with any discernible level of alcohol in their systems.

The National Road Traffic Amendment Bill was approved by Cabinet for submission to Parliament in March this year, with a promise that it would take a tough line on driving under the influence.

Despite delays in lawmaking caused by the coronavirus disaster, that draft law was released on Monday, and it effectively seeks to ban anyone who has had a drink from operating a motor vehicle, until no alcohol can be detected in their blood or on their breath.

The Bill does not alter the methods of testing, penalties, or any other part of current legislation that deals with drink-driving. It simply scratches out the sections of the current law that specifies the permitted level of alcohol for drivers.

That is less than 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres, or for professional drivers less than 0.02 grams per 100 millilitres, when measured via blood sample.

When measured by breathalyser, the current measure is 0.24 milligrams per 1,000 millilitres, and for professional drivers it is set at 0.10 milligrams per 1,000 millilitres.

That removal has the effect of introducing "a total prohibition for the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South African public roads", says the Bill's explanatory memorandum.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula promised just such a prohibition in January, with support from the politically influential police chief Bheki Cele. It met with broad support at the time.

Many factors influence how fast alcohol is metabolised, including weight and whether you are eating with your booze. It will typically take around three hours to break down the alcohol in a single glass of wine, but "a few drinks" on a night out could still leave traces of alcohol in blood the next morning.

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