Sobering up South Africa’s roads through evidence-based solutions

Drinking and driving is one of the deadliest killers on South Africa’s roads and will only be eradicated by solutions like SAB’s Alcohol Evidence Centres, writes Heidi Bartis, SAB’s Director of Communities.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the Easter long weekend saw a total of 47 people killed in road accidents. While all of these accidents have varying causes, we cannot deny that the most dangerous thing we do every day is to get behind the wheel and venture onto our roads.

As a society, road safety should be one of our number one concerns, yet it is such a part of our daily lives that we tend to forget its impact. Every six months we are reminded of this impact as festive seasons tend to lull drivers into a dangerous sense of complacency.

MEC for Transport Community Safety and Liaison, Neliswa Peggy Nkonyeni revealed that empirical evidence showed that most road accidents were caused by human behaviour such as speeding, overloading and driving under the influence of alcohol.

When MEC Nkonyeni presented the road statistics from the Easter weekend, she attributed the majority of road accidents to drunk driving. Without confirmed statistics to confirm these remarks, the fact remains that alcohol is one of the biggest killers on our roads.

Research from the Road Traffic Management Corporation in collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council found that drunk driving accounts for 27% of fatal crashes in South Africa

As someone who works in the beer industry, I believe that it is up to all of us, business, government and civil society at large, to invest in collective solutions that will put an end the scourge of drunk driving. And, I already have a method in mind.

At the South African Breweries (SAB), we have already been heavily invested in an evidence-based solution through our Alcohol Evidence Centres (AECs).

To minimise the harm caused by driving under the influence of alcohol, SAB has re-energised its efforts to aid the law enforcement process through its AECs.

With six AECs almost completed, SAB aims to have 10 operational centres set up across the country before the end of 2021.

SAB’s Alcohol Evidence Centres, developed in partnership with Government, is perhaps the most visible intervention by SAB to date, and has been central to the implementation and enforcement of the proposed BAC 0% bill which is set to go into effect this year.

These AECs are our best effort to help equip law enforcement with the tools and support they need to effectively curb the rate of fatal road accidents. But, more partners can garner better results as we all share these roads as well as the burden of paying for their consequences.

AECs are stations where law enforcement are able to test suspected drunk drivers and confirm their breath or blood alcohol limit using Evidentiary Breathalyser Alcohol Testing (EBAT) and blood tests using registered medical practitioners. Most significantly of all, the most powerful aspect of these AEC’s is their ability to ensure that the evidence collected during these processes is fully admissible in court.

By strengthening the law enforcement process, we can help ensure offenders are punished to the fullest extent of the law. The problem is, right now drunk driving is classified as a schedule 5 offence, meaning it is not as serious as it should be. Offenders are usually sent home right after being arrested. Through these AECs and our engagements with the authorities and our partners, we want to make these laws more stringent with a real threat of consequence for those who think they can simply drink, drive, and get away with it.

Currently, our best practice AEC in Pietermaritzburg can help ensure successful prosecution is possible in 14 days. Compared this to traditional blood samples where prosecution can take up to 2 years, and you’ll see why AECs are not only helpful, but are absolutely necessary.

As a testament to AEC effectiveness, SAB launched the Pietermaritzburg AEC in April 2019 in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport. By April 2020, this area experienced a 44% reduction in road fatalities with 422 successful prosecutions, 1500 arrests and 1094 successful convictions.

Although our industry has taken a knock over the past year, we will always believe when you drink you should never drive. This is why we do everything we can to help our law enforcement prosecute offenders. As a good case begins and ends with good evidence, our Alcohol Evidence Centres are the perfect complement to serving justice on our roads and saving countless lives in the process.

A focused approach through evidence-based solutions like the AECs and law enforcement is going to be a key ingredient to our success.

Given the success of our Pietermaritzburg AEC, we know this is a good solution. We just need more of them if we want to keep up the pressure and tangibly change drinking culture in South Africa for the better. While ten is our aim for 2021, with more partners can come more AECs and safer roads for our families.