Pretoria – Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said the government was forging ahead with barring motorists from drinking any alcohol before they drive.
This would mean a breathalyser blood/alcohol reading level of zero.
Mbalula was announcing the new transport regulations under level 2 of the lockdown.
He said the Road Traffic Amendment Bill – which included a 0% alcohol level for all motorists – was introduced in June this year in Parliament.
He said he hoped that Parliament would complete amending the bill before the end of this year.
The legislation was further motivated by research conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), the South African Medical Research Council and Unisa which showed that alcohol was involved in more than one in every four (27.1%) fatal car accidents between 2016 and 2018.
This cost the country R18.2billion.
“We estimate alcohol to be implicated in at least 27.1% of all fatal crashes involving driver error of any type,” the researchers said.
They found that more than 13074 of the 33659 fatal crashes during this period had “known driver risk factors”.
This was almost four in every 10 (38.8%) of the total fatal crashes. The alcohol-related crashes fall under this group.
Researchers only included fatal crashes where the driver tested positive for alcohol, and the RTMC and the police determined alcohol was the main contributor to the crash.
The data showed pedestrians were three times as likely to die in crashes where the driver was intoxicated.
Three Tshwane Metro Police Department officers were killed on Sunday in a head-on collision while pursuing a suspected drunk driver.
Mbalula, visiting their families, said more stringent rules and regulations were needed to control access to alcohol.
Danie Cronje, a lawyer specialising in liquor-related matters, said the government needed to find the underlying cause of “binge drinking” in the country instead of making the laws tighter and forcing those involved to contravene them during lockdown,
Cronje said he was confident that tightening liquor laws was not going to reduce the excess amount of drinking.
He said that according to the statistics which liquor industry organisations had included in their representations to the government during the lockdown, there were 67500 licensed liquor outlets in the country, of which 34500 were taverns.
There were an estimated 180000 illegal liquor outlets.
Cronje said that as long as illegal traders plied their trade in the dark, consumers would buy from them if they found it too difficult to get it from licensed traders under the new proposed law and regulations.
“Until the illegal outlets are either brought into the fold by making it possible for them to get licences or they are closed down, the laws on the controlled access of alcohol won’t work,” Cronje said.
This was evident during lockdown, he said. He suggested that instead of tightening the law, the government needed to find out why people drank too much and address that issue.
“That is an even more difficult question than making the law tighter. It’s a social problem, and as a lawyer, I’m not trained in that field to elaborate further.”
The chairperson of the Concerned Tshwane Liquor Traders Association, Oupa Mthombeni, said binge drinking was a big concern. He said that although he sold liquor, he couldn’t help but worry.
“It seriously needs intervention from all stakeholders.”
He also lambasted police for knowingly ignoring illegal liquor traders.
“We support government and will also be embarking on an education campaign next month,” he said.
Sibani Mngadi, spokesperson for the South African Liquor Brand Owners Association, said they too welcomed the statement by Mbalula and were going to assist the government.
Mngadi said industry stakeholders were ramping up consumer education campaigns on binge drinking to include responsible messaging as well as defining drinking guidelines to influence behaviour. They pledged to invest upwards of R150million in harm-reduction programmes over the next year.
“Various brands have introduced reduced alcohol products and 0% alcohol products to encourage responsible drinking habits,” Mngadi said.
The DA, among others, has called on South Africans to be responsible when drinking, warning that the country’s alcohol industry could not afford another ban due to abuse of it.
Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Jacob Mamabolo said there was a positive relationship between the abuse of alcohol and high rates of accidents and fatalities on the road. This put massive pressure on health facilities.
He said people needed to internalise that the way they drank alcohol was uncultured, backward and its consequences devastating.
Police Minister Bheki Cele, sending condolences to the families of the three Tshwane officers, said it was sad that their lives were cut short by a man who chose to drink and act irresponsibly.
“While the alcohol ban has been lifted under lockdown level 2, it remains the responsibility of those who consume alcohol to do so without putting themselves and those around them in danger.
“If alcohol was consumed at home as per the government’s directive, the loss of lives could be avoided.”
*For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL’s #Coronavirus trend page.
** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za