By Annalise Kempen
It is not unusual to hear or read about a serious or fatal vehicle crash where one of the drivers was under the influence of alcohol. It therefore comes as no surprise that authorities want to amend legislation to allow for a zero tolerance against alcohol for drivers. The question is whether this would be the solution to decrease the high level of serious and fatal crashes on South African roads or whether motorists will still be willing to take their chances, while hoping that they will not be stopped and tested by the authorities.
Current legislative provisions
South African motorists are well aware that it does not take too many drinks to push a person over the legal blood alcohol content limit. In fact, that second beer or glass of wine can make the difference between being legally safe or arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. As the South African Police Service (SAPS) so rightly warns: "Your blood may not have an alcohol content of more than 0.05%. This means that even after what you may think is a ‘small drink’, you could be over the limit. If you have more than 350 ml of beer, or if you have more than a single tot of brandy or other spirit, you may already be over the limit. Remember that these levels of alcohol will remain in your system for up to eight hours after consumption!" (SAPS, Nd).
Section 65 of the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 states that no person is allowed to drive while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect, or with an excessive amount of alcohol in their blood or breath. Section 65(2) specifies this legal limit in terms of the blood alcohol level as having to be less than 0.05 g/100 ml, or in the case of a professional driver referred to in section 32 of this Act as less than 0.02 g/100 ml. Section 65(5) deals with the concentration of alcohol in any specimen of breath exhaled by such person, which has to be less than 0.24 mg/1000 ml, or in the case of a professional driver referred to in section 32, less than 0.10 mg/1000 ml. Section 65(9) provides that no person shall refuse that a specimen of blood, or a specimen of breath, be taken of him or her.
Proposed amendments to legislation
Proposed amendments to section 65 of the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 to allow for no alcohol in the blood of breath levels of vehicle drivers have been widely publicised. The National Road Traffic Amendment Bill that was published in 2020 notes in its summary that the amendments to Act 93 of 1996 will, inter alia, further prohibit and reduce the limit of alcohol in a specimen of blood taken from any part of the body.
The proposed amendment of section 65 reads as follows:
“(2) No person shall on a public road -
(a) drive a vehicle; or
(b) occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle the engine of which is running, while [the] there is any concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken from any part of his or her body [is not less than 0.05 gram per 100 millilitres, or in the case of a professional driver referred to in section 32, not less than 0.02 gram per 100 millilitres]. (Words that are underlined indicate insertions in the existing legislation, while words in bold type in square brackets indicate omissions from existing legislation.)
This proposed amendment makes it clear that the aim of the legislature is to have a zero tolerance for the use of any alcohol by any vehicle driver.