Some drunken driving cases dropped

2011-09-10 18:06

Cape Town - The drunken driving cases provisionally pulled off the Western Cape High Court roll pending the outcome of a case involving the validity of the Dräger breathalyser test will not proceed, the NPA said on Friday.

National Prosecuting Authority Western Cape spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the decision was made after the Western Cape High Court found problems with the breathalyser test.

"There were cases on the roll which were provisionally withdrawn because of the Dräger case. The cases that were withdrawn will not continue," he said.

Judge Nathan Erasmus dismissed a drunken driving charge against 28-year-old Clifford Hendricks on Friday, after finding problems with the Dräger breathalyser test performed on him.

"I am of the view that, save for the fact that the accused was the driver of the motor vehicle on a public road on the day in question, the State failed to prove any of the other elements of the offence as charged," Erasmus said.

"Consequently the accused is acquitted of the charge."


Hendricks, who was charged with drunken driving in January 2010, challenged the validity of a Dräger breathalyser test of his breath alcohol level. It found him to be four times over the legal limit.

The NPA in the Western Cape brought the use of the Dräger to court to prove its reliability. The breathalyser's accuracy had been brought into question on several previous occasions.

In his judgment, Erasmus said the certificate of the operator who performed the test on Hendricks was dated February 12 1999. However, the test in question was programmed with software finalised only in December 1999.

"There is no certificate to prove that the operator was trained in terms of the software version 1.1 on the Alcotest that was used in producing this result," he said.

Erasmus also found that a person's body temperature, or whether he wore dentures, could lead to a false reading on the Dräger.

A spokesperson for Western Cape Transport MEC Robin Carlisle said that although the ruling "seemed like a setback", Erasmus had provided clarity on how the Dräger testing process had to be applied in future.


"This has never been tested before this way in court and now we understand what the road ahead looks like," Steven Otter said.

"It provides us with the opportunity to get the system going perfectly."

He said the court had accepted the constitutionality of the device and even encouraged its use.

"The court said we are in complete support of the device, but here's what's wrong with the process."

In future, the test would be as quick as a driver being stopped in car, doing a blow test and then being taken to a Dräger centre for a further test.

"The result will be instant and the conviction will be far faster," Otter said.

Ntabazalila said a team from the provincial department of transport and the NPA would look at the recommendations made by Erasmus.