SA aims for strict drink-driving limit

By Lee-Anne Butler

MOTORISTS will need to keep a much closer eye on what they drink if government’s proposed amendment to the National Road Traffic Act is passed.

The Transport Department wants to cut the current legal alcohol limit for motorists by more than half – dropping it from 0.05g to 0.02g of alcohol per 100ml of blood, and the breathalyser limit from 0.24 to 0.10mg per 1 000ml.

The proposal also calls for a zero-alcohol limit for taxi, bus and truck drivers, as well as for drivers who have had their driver’s licence for less than a year.

Three readers of varying sizes agreed to put the new proposal to the test to see how much they could consume before hitting the limit.

And the results were a big surprise for them all.Lance Baatjes (left), Lyndon Freeman and Kholeka Kumalo say cheers with a glass of beer as they undertake a series of breathalyser tests this week to see how much alcohol they can each drink before hitting the proposed lower drink-driving limits in South Africa PHOTOGRAPHER: JUDY DE VEGA

All the tests were conducted with a breathalyser, with the assistance of acting assistant superintendent Eugene Geswint, who stressed that alcohol affected people differently, depending on their weight, height and when last they had eaten.

Kholeka Kumalo, 28, who weighs 55kg, had eaten two hours before the test and had a 0.24mg breathalyser reading after one 340ml glass of beer and a 0.49mg reading after a second glass of beer.

Lyndon Freeman, 32, who weighs 75kg, had eaten four hours before the test and had a 0.20mg reading after one 340ml glass of beer and a 0.27mg reading after a second glass of beer.Lyndon Freeman blows into a breathalyser for traffic official Eugene Geswint PHOTOGRAPHER: JUDY DE VEGA

Lance Baatjes, 25, who weighs 110kg, and did not eat anything on the day of the test, had a 0.12mg reading after one 340ml glass of beer and a 0.21mg reading after a second glass of beer.

While Kumalo and Freeman were only able to drink a quarter glass of beer before reaching the new proposed limit, Baatjes could drink just less than a full glass of beer before reaching the limit, due to his extra weight.

Geswint said while blood tests were more accurate, the breathalyser gave an estimate of the blood alcohol content.

South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD) founder and director Caro Smit said about 18 000 people died and 150 000 were severely injured annually due to road accidents, costing the country’s economy R309-billion.

She said 65% of these accidents were alcohol-related.

“The new limit says it must be less than 0.10mg breath, so once you blow more than that you are immediately over.

“Most people will only be able to have a quarter glass of beer, so if they are going to have a full glass they will need a designated sober driver or to make use of a taxi service like Good Fellas,” she said.

She said people having one large glass of wine (250ml) could have a level of 0.35mg when tested with a breathalyser, which is more than three times the new proposed limit. This is because mainstream wines generally have a higher alcohol content than beer.

Smit said the organisation had submitted comments and recommendations on the draft bill. She said if implemented, the bill would assist to bring down road deaths, but only if it was vigorously enforced and the correct, allowed penalties were implemented by the Department of Justice.

“SADD recommends adding zero alcohol level for probation licence- holders. Blood should be taken as soon as possible but within a guideline time of less than three hours.”

Smit said when Brazil changed its limit to zero, there was an immediate 30% decrease in road accident deaths.

Transport Department chief communications director Tiyani Rokhotso said the proposed bill had closed for comment on September 30.

This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, October 13, 2012.

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