Drunk drivers not tested

2017-06-27 14:34
Many involved in fatal crashes rarely subjected to blood test.

Many involved in fatal crashes rarely subjected to blood test. (File)

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Drunk drivers have literally been getting away with murder in Pietermaritzburg.

The Witness can today reveal that suspected drunk drivers and pedestrians involved in accidents in the city are rarely subjected to a blood alcohol test.

But now, a joint partnership between doctors and law enforcement authorities is hoping to change this.

This was discussed at a meeting two weeks ago at Pietermaritzburg Mediclinic between the hospital’s emergency centre specialist, a Pietermaritzburg emergency specialist, South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD), the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI), and Pietermaritzburg police and their collision unit.

Mediclinic Emergency Centre specialist and former Edendale emergency unit head Dr Sandy Inglis said that in the four-and-a-half years that he had worked at Edendale, he had never seen an intoxicated patient have their blood alcohol levels tested or get arrested.

He said inside the hospitals, doctors and nurses saw the “carnage” of drink driving, but there did not seem to be much happening on the roads in terms of law enforcement.

An Edendale doctor who could not be named said he had seen many cases where a driver suspected of drinking had crashed into another vehicle, killing the occupant. They would be admitted to hospital but not tested for the presence of alcohol.

“They are getting away with murder,” he said.

He added that recently a patient who appeared to be intoxicated sat in the hospital for two days “as drunk as a skunk”, however, no blood was ever drawn for testing his alcohol levels.

The doctor said he had phoned emergency doctors from Cape Town and Durban who said blood alcohol tests were not being conducted at their hospitals either.

“It used to happen that police would arrive at the hospital with the patient and a blood kit to conduct the test, but that is not happening,” he said.

The doctor said a police officer had recently said that they did not have access to blood kits and when they did, there were many officers who did not know how to use them, or what to do when a driver was suspected of consuming alcohol.

He said the issue needed to be addressed and fixed, although it would not be fixed overnight.

An RTI officer at the meeting said another issue added to the blood kits not being used was that by the time police arrived at an accident scene, paramedics had already left with the patients to take them to hospital.

He said police had to arrest the patient and travel to hospital with them if they were suspected of driving under the influence. Once at the hospital the patient’s blood must be drawn by either a registered nurse, a doctor or the district surgeon within the sight of the arresting officer.

He said another issue was that the arresting officer had to be sure the patient had been the driver in the accident before arresting them on suspicion of drunk driving.

“The crux of the issue is there is no compliance with the law when it comes to drinking and driving,” he said.

SADD founder Caro Smit said at the meeting that people in Pietermaritzburg did not seem to take drinking and driving seriously and that more needed to be done on law enforcement’s side, including road blocks and testing drivers for alcohol.

Inglis said that at Edendale he had held an unofficial case study by breathalysing emergency unit patients when they arrived in the emergency unit over four days.

He said around 80% of the patients had been drinking.

A police officer who could not be named said although he did not often come across crashes involving drunk drivers, when he did, the process for arresting and drawing blood was difficult.

He said police will do what is required of them when it comes to drunk drivers, however, once the evidence was presented in court it was “mostly thrown out anyway”.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said that blood kits were always available to police officers and that if there was not one inside the police car, the officers should call their supervisor for one.

“We are losing our kids. We are investing in them and in no time, they die,” he said.

“We need to work from the bottom up. We can facilitate change in Pietermaritzburg and set an example for other districts.”

The team agreed on a second meeting but all said they would be in constant communication and that blood testing should be emphasised within the police department.

“At every accident, drivers need to be tested. It needs to become the norm,” said Ngobese.

He said yesterday that uMgungun­dlovu South cluster commander Major-General Phumelele Makoba had met with management and it was decided that police should embark on operations in areas identified as hot spots, to “stop the scourge of drunk drivers in the city”. They are planning another meeting soon.

Drip no excuse for not testing

It is a common perception that once a drip is set up on a drunk driver, their blood alcohol results will not be accurate.

Not all medicines inside the drip have an alcohol content and if they do, the exact medication is recorded by the paramedic.

Therefore drunk drivers who have had a drip set up can still have their blood tested for alcohol with the results used as evidence in court.

The RTI representative added that it is imperative that people were tested and that management must ensure more roadblocks were conducted. He suggested a multi-disciplined roadblock on a weekly basis.


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