The issue of permissible driver blood alcohol concentration (BAC) came in for special attention during the first day of the Portfolio Committee on Transport’s public hearings into the National Road Traffic Amendment (NRTA) Bill.
A number of organisations made oral submissions on the bill, including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Automobile Association. Cosatu’s Mr Matthew Parks said government’s poor approach to the matter condemns thousands of South Africans to premature death on the road and costs the economy billions of rands.
South African Alcohol Policy Alliance’s (SAAPA’s) Mr Maurice Smithers told the committee that driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the biggest threats to road safety, since it slows drivers’ reaction time and distorts vision. “Lives are ruined, families are thrown into poverty, growth and development is stunted. There’s an unnecessary and avoidable burden on the health system. Drinking and driving do not mix.”
Mr Smithers added that there was no safe number of drinks, as people respond differently to alcohol. It must therefore become socially unacceptable to drink and drive.
Other issues raised by presenters concerned clarity around the bill’s definitions, challenges associated with whether roads in gated estates are public roads, and foreign drivers not conforming with legislation.
The committee sought clarity on the scope of the bill. Mr Lawrence McDonald said it seemed that many of the challenges on South African roads are not legislative, but enforcement-related. He agreed with the proposed 0.02% BAC, as there are situations where alcohol consumption is unavoidable. “We should be careful when instilling this limit and not interfere with the rights of citizens,” he said.
Presenters raised concerns with 0% BAC, as some medication and traditional beer contain a volume of alcohol that may result in unnecessary positive readings if the permissible limit was set at zero percent. Presenters called for road safety to be included in school curriculums and said drivers’ licence testing must ensure capable drivers.
The South African Medical Research Council’s (SAMRC’s) Professor Charles Parry said the challenge with alcohol is not only related to the people who consume, but the harm caused to others. “Young inexperienced drivers are likely to be involved in accidents once they have consumed alcohol,” he added.
The bill is intended to, among other things, prohibit and reduce the permissible limit of alcohol in a specimen of blood taken from any part of the body, and provide for the registration and grading of driving school instructors.