Wait for drunk drivers

2014-12-31 00:00

DRIVERS caught in KwaZulu-Natal during the holidays driving under the influence of alcohol are unlikely to face the music until June next year.

This is due to serious backlogs in the testing of blood.

Already hundreds of drivers have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in the province this festive season.

Delays of more than six months for prosecutions of the offenders are said to be caused by the crippling backlogs at the forensic chemical laboratories responsible for testing blood samples in the Western Cape, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Blood taken from KZN motorists is currently tested mainly in Gauteng.

Another laboratory is planned for Durban and is likely to start operating around mid-year in 2015.

DA shadow minister for Health Wilmot James said with the exception of the Western Cape laboratory, the other two had deteriorated as the number of unprocessed samples increased.

In Johannesburg, unprocessed samples increased from 30 171 to 32 460 and at the Pretoria lab went up from 12 544 to 15 876 between April and ­November this year.

James said KZN was one of the most affected. The province has a high accident rate, most of them fatal.

During the festive season and Easter holidays, KZN often attracts a large number of travellers on the roads and the blood samples taken are tested in laboratories in Gauteng.

“These delays have a huge impact … especially when it comes to getting the cases to court,” he said.

James said the delays also affects the credibility of prosecutions and detracts from their deterrent value.

“Some cases get thrown out … If there are no visible prosecutions then there is an issue about deterrence.”

He said the delays are caused largely by staff shortages, including chemical analyst and laboratory assistants.

James suggested government should consider using private laboratories and universities to process some of the samples.

A legal source in KZN, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are two kinds of drunken driving cases.

One is when a driver is clearly drunk, “slurring his words and falling out of his car”.

“Those cases are enrolled immediately, there is no need for blood test.”

The second scenario involves cases where people are stopped at a road block and get tested and there is suspicion they are over the limit. Then the blood tests are done.

“We cannot charge people on suspicion … imagine all the civil claims against us,” said the source.

The wait for blood test results could be anything from six to eight months he said.

National Health Department spokesperson Joe Maila said they were working to fix the problem.

“We are training and re-training staff and filling vacancies. This is work in progress,” he said.

Zinhle Mngomezulu of the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) said drunk driving is unacceptable.

“These accidents kill more than one person. A drunk driver will collide with a sober driver … and kill people. This is a serious issue.”

She said from the beginning of ­December, 214 drunk drivers were ­arrested in KZN.

“The number of unlicensed drivers is also alarming at 2 267,” she added.

Meanwhile, a driver in his early 20s was caught driving at 200 km/h in an Audi A3 on the N2 south bound on Sunday. He was arrested and charged and was expected to appear in court today for a possible bail application.

Mngomezulu said the N2 south bound was abused by motorists who drove recklessly. “This is so far the highest speed of someone caught this festive season.”

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