Breathalyser under scrutiny
Cape Town - Legal Aid authorities have appointed a top-level legal team to challenge the validity and reliability of the controversial breathalyser Dräger Alcotest.
The accuracy of the apparatus, which measures the volume of alcohol vapour in a drinker's exhaled breath, has been in question for a number of years.
A test case, involving alleged offender Clifford Joseph Hendricks, started in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.
Hendricks pleaded not guilty to a charge of driving while the alcohol vapour in his exhaled breath was 0.95mg, on the evening of January 23 last year.
The maximum allowed is 0.24mg.
Senior prosecuting counsel Billy Downer explained to the court that offenders were initially charged with driving under the influence of liquor as the main charge, and with driving with an excessive blood-alcohol level as the alternative charge.
He said continuing liquor-related carnage on the roads over the years had led to sophistication in the formulation of charges and the equipment used to bring offenders to book.
In the 1960s, the maximum blood-alcohol level was 0.15%, which was reduced to 0.08% then to 0.05%.
He said the modern Dräger equipment focused on alcohol vapour in the breath "and not alcohol levels in the blood", although blood testing was still valid.
Hendricks pleaded not guilty to the charge and denied that he was driving the vehicle in question at the time.
In a plea explanation, read to the court by senior counsel Derek Mitchell, he claimed that the sections of the National Road Traffic Act, under which he was charged, failed to conform to the rule of law and were thus unconstitutional.
He contended that these parts of the act were vague, arbitrary and capricious.
He said breath-alcohol had no scientifically-established direct correlation with a driver's motor or perceptual skills, or ability to drive.
He contended that the correlation between breath-alcohol and blood-alcohol levels differed from person to person, and that a conviction or acquittal may thus depend entirely on the type of test used.
He claimed this was arbitrary and unreasonable.
The matter continues on Tuesday.
See the related story: Drunk driving arrest - cop threatened