National News/ 03 October 2022, 08:48am / Staff Writer
South African Police conducting a road block: image supplied
By Staff Writer: The portfolio committee on transport has shut down the government’s plans to introduce laws zero-rating alcohol limits for drivers in South Africa, but researchers say that there is room for compromise.
In September, the committee rejected proposals from the government to reduce the allowable concentration of alcohol in a driver’s bloodstream (BAC) from 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres of blood to nil.
The amendments were rejected based on arguments that some medicines, foods and religious practices would leave trace amounts of alcohol in the system, which could lead to arrests based on false positives.
The committee argued that police visibility and stronger enforcement of the current laws would be more effective at combating alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
While the proposals have been thrown out, for now, researchers have argued that the government shouldn’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, saying that some compromise can still be reached.
According to a new study published in the South African Journal of Science, zero-tolerance laws globally have seen significant reductions in road fatalities as a result of similar regulations – however, many include a margin of tolerance to accommodate challenges in detection.
Chiefly, they argue that instead of zero-rating the allowable alcohol concentration, it can be limited to 0.02g/100ml, in line with other countries that have done so.
“For example, Brazil and Chile include a margin of tolerance, usually in the range of 0.02–0.03 g/100 ml to accommodate challenges in the detection of very low levels of alcohol using breath testing equipment,” the researchers said.
Other options could be to direct the focus of zero-tolerance laws to young or inexperienced drivers with very low alcohol thresholds, which has been done in some states in the United States.
They noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and others recommend that the best practice for BAC threshold limits, at present, is 0.05 g/100 ml for the general driving population and 0.02 g/100 ml for young and novice drivers.
The 0.05 g/100 ml for the general driving population is supported by substantial experimental research showing a considerable increase in crash risk at the 0.05 g/100 ml threshold and higher compared to sober drivers, the researchers said.
“Young and novice drivers are even more susceptible to impairment from low levels of alcohol with a greater risk of crash involvement, which relates to their developing skills, experience and maturity.”
For example, compared to sober drivers and at 0.08 g/100 ml, drivers aged 15–19 years were 87 times more likely to be involved in a road traffic crash compared to drivers over 30 years who had a 16 times higher risk at the same BAC, they said.
The researchers noted that available data based on studies from the US and Australia show that zero-tolerance laws account for reductions of 9–24% for fatal crashes and 4–17% for a combination of all crashes.
This reduction would make a significant impact on South Africa’s roads, which see thousands or fatalities each year – a large portion of which involve alcohol abuse.
However, they said that a change in laws needs to happen gradually and in combination with other social efforts, to find success among the population.
They recommended that South Africa keep following a path to zero-tolerance for drunk driving and proposed that zero-tolerance legislation in South Africa be nested within a broader zero-tolerance approach – including a range of other complementary interventions.
This includes measures relating to:
“This integration would allow for a holistic synergised approach to addressing drink-driving in the country, consistent with a multiple and systems-oriented approach that is generally advocated for addressing road traffic crashes and injuries,” they said.