PMB boozers beware

2009-10-22 00:00

DESCRIBING his shock at learning of a 29-year-old with 16 drinking and driving offences, KZN Transport MEC Willies Mchunu said it is these young, repeat offenders that are causing carnage on the province’s roads.

Mchunu made the remark while on a walkabout in South Africa’s first state-of-the-art Alcohol Evidence Centre that was officially opened in Pietermaritzburg last night.

The centre is the result of a marriage between odd bedfellows — South African Breweries (SAB) and road safety enforcers the KZN Transport Department. The joint effort is part of a nationwide crackdown on drunk driving.

The centre in Braid Street is a short distance from Langalibalelele (Longmarket) Street, once labelled by authorities as one of the worst locations for drunk driving in the province.

When they are stopped by road blocks and patrolling officials, drivers can be made to go through an initial screening for drinking. If the reading is positive, the driver will be taken to the Alcohol Evidence Centre to be tested with the latest equipment. The process is monitiored on closed-circuit television and information entered in a central database with the scanned breathalyser reading (no more lost readings). The central database will help identify repeat offenders.

Mchunu said that although people know it is illegal to drink and drive, research indicates that 50% of the people who die on South African roads are over the blood-alcohol level. This is a staggering figure if one considers that some 900 000 road accidents were reported in 2008 alone. In these crashes, at least 150 000 people were injured, with 60 000 requiring hospitalisation and 14 500 people died, the MEC said.

Mchunu said it is unbelievable that with all the preaching against drinking and driving, “people still drink, get into a car and then kill others on the road”.

The MEC said he recently spoke to national Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele, who believes the laws on drinking and driving in South Africa are not punitive enough. Mchunu said Ndebele is going to do something about this. “We live in a democracy, we don’t want to over-regulate people’s lives, but with the kind of statistics on drinking and driving, we have no choice,” he said.

Vincent Maphai, director for corporte affairs at SAB, said they decided to go into partnership with KZN because of the carnage on the provincial roads as a result of drinking and driving.

He said SAB campaigns against alcohol abuse because of South Africans’ drink problem, adding that the country has the highest rate of foetal alcohol syndrome and one of the highest rates of underage drinking in the world.

“We asked ourselves what kind of a society are we trying to build. We realised that the only sustainable way we can do business is to live in a healthy society, one that cares for its children and young people. Our view is very simple: to be successful we don’t need everyone drinking, but we do need everyone to drink responsibly.”

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