The month of April is not only synonymous with relaxing holiday breaks with loved ones, the elusive Easter Bunny and delicious chocolate eggs, but also the anticipated annual carnage on South Africa’s roads. Despite concerted efforts by Government and the authorities, our roads still remain amongst the most dangerous in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.

According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) the Easter road death toll dropped from a staggering 287 in 2015, to only 156 in 2016. The impressive 46% decrease proposes that great headway has been made to reduce the road death toll, and is owed to increased road safety campaigns and high traffic police visibility. But, there is still much more that can be done to make our roads safer and to hold lawbreakers accountable.

Reckless driving and alcohol consumption remain the top reasons for road accidents. It is estimated that approximately 1980 motorists were arrested over last year’s Easter weekend for drunken driving alone.  This is due to the fact that the current penalty system doesn’t act as sufficient deterrent.

The proposed Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offence Act (AARTO), which was signed into law in 1998, aims to make our roads safer and punish offenders. However, the implementation has been delayed for almost two decades and Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport recently called for a fresh round of public hearings. The AARTO system proposes a scheme where drivers accumulate demerit points for traffic violations that could see them behind bars or lose their license.

Under the proposed demerit system, speeding and driving drunk carries the highest penalty of 6 demerits (it takes only 13 or more points for a license to be suspended and 3 suspensions will result in a offender to lose their license).  It’s important to note that this system won’t replace traffic fines. While the prospect of this one-two punch has the potential to prevent more accidents by irresponsible drivers, it’s still only a theoretical possibility.

Legal Expert, Cwayita Vellem from LAW FOR ALL, believes that Government needs to step up and prioritse AARTO’s implementation. “it is inconceivable that a law can take close to 20 years to implement, while the lives of motorists are at stake. It is absolutely ludicrous. Government needs to give a clear indication of when we can expect AARTO to kick in,” says Vellem.

So since Government has still not committed to an implementation date, South Africans need to commit to acting responsibly. Vellem added that many South African’s think they know their drinking limits or have quick fix solutions to sober up, but these limits usually do not measure up against those set by law or by the human body. “A person is over the legal limit if his breath alcohol content is in excess of 0.24mg per 1,000ml or his blood alcohol concentration in excess of 0.05g per 100ml. The rule of thumb for any motorist is a maximum of 1 unit per alcohol per hour. Biologically, the human body can only process one unit every hour, despite drinking lots of water, strong black coffee or taking a cold shower. These tricks do little to help sober a person up,” says Vellem.

Here’s some perspective: a 75ml glass of wine will amount to about one unit. But be cautious, because that means a 250ml glass will amount to 3,3 units. A spirit cooler or beer amounts to roughly about 1,25 units, while a 25ml tot of whiskey or brandy to a unit. Cocktails and shooters are a bit trickier and dangerous, as one glass could easily amount to 2-4 units.

If found guilty of drunken driving, a person faces 6 years’ imprisonment or a R120 000 fine, a suspended driver’s license and criminal record.  And that’s not taking into account the repercussions should someone die as a result of a road accident. “The real reason people should not drive under the influence is the fact that they might cause the death of someone. You stand to face a charge of culpable homicide, and prosecutors are increasingly accusing motorists of murder,” warns Vellem.

What to do if you are arrested for drunken driving:

  1. Remain calm and collected. Do not resist arrest or become violent, even if force is used. You don’t want to prejudice your chances to be released on bail
  2. You have the right to be treated with dignity and to remain silent. Pay attention to whether you are informed of your rights (if at all) and other things said by the arresting officer. You must, however, provide your full name. You have the right to phone one person (A friend/relative or an Attorney).
  3. You may not refuse to provide a blood sample. The district surgeon, a registered nurse or prison medical officer will take a blood specimen within 2 hours of arrest and submit to the state laboratory for analysis.
  4. Follow the instructions of the arresting officer. Chances are good that you will be kept at the police station until you have sobered up, and you may be released with a warning to appear before court within 48 hours. You may also be kept behind bars.
  5. It is important to note the details and the name of the police station you are in, the case number for your case, the name of the investigating officer. Your attorney will require the info.