Alcohol and the law: what you need to know

27 Jan 14

RealityCheck drinking & drivingThe consequences of irresponsible drinking are well known and can range from physical and emotional harm to fatal accidents. But do you actually know your rights in terms of the law?

The South African laws around alcohol consumption are there to play a protective role, and with the South African Law Enforcement Agencies current Zero Tolerance approach the penalties for disobeying these laws can be severe indeed.

These are some important points to note:

Alcohol and minors

The National Liquor Act (2003)  states that no person may supply liquor to a minor (any person under the age of 18).

It should be remembered that underage drinking poses physical and emotional threats to young adults at a crucial point in their development.

Drinking in public

While laws around drinking in public are regulated at Municipal or Provincial level, the general ruling is that drinking in public is prohibited. This includes any public places such as roads, streets or thoroughfares, vacant land or urban areas. Taking this a step further, being drunk, violent or disorderly on any premises, whether public or licensed tavern, is generally a punishable offence. For specifics on your area it is best to consult your local Provincial Acts and Municipal by-laws.

Drinking and driving

It’s a proven fact that alcohol consumption can impair driving ability. The penalty for drinking and driving in South Africa starts at a R2000 fine and up to six years imprisonment and your driving license will be suspended for a period of 6 months for a first drinking and driving offence; 5 years for a second offence and 10 years for a third or subsequent offence, or worse, the loss of life. A criminal record is a given.

Alcohol limits

According to the National Road Traffic Act South Africa’s legal limit for driving is

  • breath alcohol content of 0.24g/1000ml; or
  • blood alcohol limit of 0.05g/100ml and 0, 02g/100ml for professional drivers

What this means

A rough example of how much a 68kg adult could drink per hour without going over the legal limit is:

  • two thirds of a beer or spirit cooler
  • or 75ml of red or white wine per hour
  • or one 25ml tot of whisky or brandy

The general rule of thumb is that the body takes anything from three to eight hours to process alcohol, and for this reason it is safer to simply not drink at all when driving. If in doubt about your alcohol levels get a lift home or organise a taxi.

Take responsibility

Whether you’re having a drink after work or having fun on holidays, remember not to risk your safety.

The consequences of irresponsible drinking can be devastating. Simply taking responsibility and planning ahead can make all the difference.


Read next:


The 5 best ways to get home after a night out 


A correctional behaviour programme for people who drink and drive