Criminals may go free after Dräger aquittal

2011-09-10 16:05

A Cape Town man whose legal victory could lead to thousands of drunk-driving cases being invalidated has warned against driving under the influence of alcohol.

Clifford Hendricks – delighted about his victory against the validity of the Dräger breathalyser this week – warned it didn’t mean it was open season for drunk ­drivers.

Thousands of people in the Western Cape and possibly elsewhere in South Africa, facing drunk-driving charges because of failing the Dräger breathalyser test, could have their cases struck off the court roll following the verdict.

It was handed down by the Western Cape High Court on Friday. Judge Nathan Erasmus ruled the Dräger system in the province had to be suspended until concerns over the system were resolved.

Asked whether drunk drivers should be punished, Hendricks said: “This is not a group thing, I am alone in this. Policing officials must do their duties and see to it that the roads are safe for all users.”

But he said “there could be many people like me who never thought to challenge this (Dräger breathalyser). If alcohol was in my blood, why test my mouth? That was not fair.”

Acquitting Hendricks of the drunk-driving charges against him, Erasmus said the Dräger’s software needed to be modified, a temperature sensor added and that suspected offenders needed to provide two breath samples rather than one.

With the Dräger out of the picture traffic authorities now have to rely on blood tests as the only evidence admissible before court.

Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle said the high court accepted the constitutionality of “evidential breath alcohol testing” and “even encouraged its use”, ­subject to improvements.

He said the department would “exert all the pressure we can” to ensure the necessary regulations and procedures were “fine-tuned” as soon as possible.

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