It’s the festive season – a bittersweet time of merriment sprinkled with a sharp rise in the number of often fatal road accidents.
According to Rhys Evans, managing director of electronic alcohol and drug detection equipment provision company ALCO-Safe, driving under the influence of alcohol is known to be one of the leading causes of accidents on South African roads.
With the festive season well under way, Evans predicted an increase in the number of roadblocks and random alcohol testing.
Unfortunately, he added, not all motorists are aware of their rights and responsibilities when they are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.
“The first thing people should be aware of is what the legal limits are for alcohol while driving,” he said.
Quinton Chetty, commander of traffic services in Buffalo City Metro, said the legal limit for a breath specimen for normal drivers was 0.24mg/1 000ml, while for professional drivers it was 0.10mg/1 000ml.
The legal blood alcohol concentration for normal drivers is 0.05mg/100ml and 0.02mg/100ml for professional drivers.
Broken down, Evans said this equated to about two 330ml beers or two 130ml glasses of wine for a person who weighs about 75kg.
The average person takes about one hour to eliminate one unit of alcohol, however everyone processes alcohol differently and this is a rough guide only.
As Chetty explained: “The amount of alcohol a driver can drink legally before driving cannot really be quantified, it depends on how the drivers’ body reacts to alcohol.
“One beer for one driver can be too much for the other driver.”
Lawyer Howard Dembovsky, from non-profit organisation Justice Project South Africa, said any motorist could be pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving.
He said police or traffic officers could subject the motorist to a handheld breathalyser to determine their breath alcohol level.
With regards to hand-held breathalysers, Evans stressed the importance of checking if the device was new. He said officers could do this by showing drivers the closed package before conducting the test.
“While these results of a hand-held breathalyser cannot be used against the motorist in court, if it indicates that the driver is over the legal limit they can then be taken to a state hospital or clinic for blood tests.
“A doctor on duty conducts tests,” Dembovsky said.
“You do not have the right to refuse any of these tests, you cannot demand your own doctor for these tests and you may also not demand your own set of tests for your own records.
“You can ask, but you cannot demand. The best thing is just to cooperat he said, adding that results could take anywhere between three months to three years to be released.
“Our state forensic is in shambles the at the moment and the long wait for the release in results may lead to the case being withdrawn in court, but I wouldn’t bank on that.
“If you’re going to drive. It’s that simple.”
Police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Hazel Mqala said apart from at roadblocks, motorists found to be driving recklessly or posing a danger to other motorists were pulled over.
Once arrested, she said the mot vehicle was usually driven to the police station that they would be detained at, although they have a right to call a spouse or a relative to collect it from the scene.
“We prefer it to be a family member who collects the car although it doesn’t have to be. This prevents a situation where the person sobers up and they may not remember who they called to take their car,” Mqala said. — firstname.lastname@example.org