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How the lockdown alcohol ban has improved road safety

The ban on alcohol sales has had an undeniable positive effect on road safety, and many are calling for more stringent regulation when the lockdown ends.
The ban on alcohol sales has had an undeniable positive effect on road safety, and many are calling for more stringent regulation when the lockdown ends.
Image: Marian Vejcik / 123rf

For some South Africans, one of the contentious regulations during lockdown has been the ban on alcohol sales. Following the extension of the lockdown, many were hoping this ban would be relaxed but they were disappointed on April 16 when this was firmly denied.

The managing director of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, said one area where the ban on alcohol can have a drastic impact is in the cost of alcohol-related accidents on the gross domestic product (GDP).

“Research from the government and public-health sector says the annual tangible and intangible cost to the country of alcohol-related harm is between 10% and 12% of the country’s GDP.

“What percentage of this can be specifically attributed to car crashes  is not stated. It is  interesting to note is that in the Easter road crash and fatality statistics, only 11 people were arrested for drunk driving, despite a higher police presence, compared to last year’s 800 arrests. It is clear changing drinking behaviour can considerably affect the high road accident rates in the country.”

The question, however, is: what to do next?

“While the ban on alcohol sales is very enlightening, liquor will not and cannot stay banned forever. Instead, we can use the data the lockdown gives us to illustrate just how detrimental drinking and driving can be. The true implications of alcohol consumption and driving compared to a period with very limited drinking and driving cannot be denied,” said Herbert.

These area few examples of how the ban on alcohol has had positive effects:

  • Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town has reduced the caseload at their trauma centre by two thirds now that there are fewer drinking and driving accidents.
  • After the first week of lockdown, doctors in Johannesburg reported little to no car crashes involving alcohol.
  • An alcohol and drug abuse researcher at the SA Medical Research Council, Prof Charles Parry, developed a model showing a 25% reduction in trauma cases related to drinking (including injury from crimes as well as car accidents).
  • A public health-care doctor said the situation Italian doctors faced when they decided who to save and who would die is a scenario faced in South Africa every day, and he attributed alcohol consumption in incidents of violence and in car accidents as the main reason for this.

The reduction in trauma cases across the country is propelling health-care workers, politicians, researchers and others to push to keep the ban in place while we battle Covid-19, and for more drastic regulation after that.

Herbert said: “The difficulty, however, is that someone who gets behind the wheel with a blood alcohol content level of 0,05mg/100ml is just as likely to disobey a zero-alcohol limit.

“This is why gathering data and evidence of the impact that drinking and driving has on the country during a time when it was drastically reduced is so important. For those who still do not understand the danger of their actions, maybe a look at the stark difference between a time of drinking and time of less drinking could motivate even a small portion of them to change their ways. The decision needs to start with them.”

If you plan to celebrate the end of lockdown by drinking, ensure you do not drive.

“Consider the facts we have shared with introspection. If you may have been one of the people who would get behind the wheel after drinking, it is time to change. There are many ways to still enjoy yourself without risking your life, the lives of others, and putting a drain on the economy,” said Herbert.


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