Watch: Drivers put to the test

2017-07-30 13:22
The team that participated (from left): Witness senior sub-editor Alwyn Viljoen and Approved Autos representative Petrus Dlomo, look on as community newspaper editor Candyce Krishna waits for Witness reporter Chelsea Pieterse to pour her a glass of wine, while layout sub-editor Claudia Banha takes a breathalyser test.

The team that participated (from left): Witness senior sub-editor Alwyn Viljoen and Approved Autos representative Petrus Dlomo, look on as community newspaper editor Candyce Krishna waits for Witness reporter Chelsea Pieterse to pour her a glass of wine, while layout sub-editor Claudia Banha takes a breathalyser test. (Ian Carbutt)

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With a glass of wine already in my system, I gripped the steering wheel, revved the engine and sped off down the road before driving straight into several orange cones demarcating our track.

A bit disorientated, I shifted the car into reverse, dragging a cone along with me until I eventually stopped the vehicle and climbed out on unsteady feet.

It was 2.30 pm on Thursday afternoon when a small team of Weekend Witness staff began their experiment of driving a vehicle under the influence to showcase the effects alcohol has on drivers.

The experiment, monitored by Mountain Rise police, the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI), ER24 paramedics, and South Africans Against Drunk Driving (Sadd), was created following a spate of car crashes and deaths in Pietermaritzburg where alcohol was suspected to be involved.

It also follows a recent Witness article which revealed that suspected drunk drivers and pedestrians involved in accidents in the city are rarely subjected to blood alcohol testing.

With police and paramedics on standby, RTI and SADD founder Caro Smit set up a course for the experiment using cones on a road inside Mountain Rise Cemetery.

Witness reporter Chelsea Pieterse, Witness senior sub-editor Alwyn Viljoen, community newspapers editor Candyce Krishna and layout sub-editor Claudia Banha took part.

Each person was made to do a breathalyser test before the first lap. A breathalyser takes a specimen of a person's breath and measures its alcohol content.

In South Africa, the legal limit is a breath alcohol content of 0.24 mg per 1 000 ml, or a blood alcohol limit of 0,05 g per 100 ml.

The breathalyser used in the experiment converts the breath alcohol content to the blood alcohol limit.

Each person completed a lap around the course before consuming any alcohol and then had a drink before the second lap.

Viljoen, who has a professional driver’s licence, sped around the course without any effort with a blood alcohol level of 0,02 g, which is below the limit.

Next, it was my turn. Not being a big drinker, after my first glass of wine I was just under the legal limit. I felt confident, and happy but slightly fuzzy-headed.

I climbed into the car, and sped off down the track, knocking over two cones as I tried to manoeuvre the zig-zag layout as quickly as I could.

At the end of the course, each person was required to reverse park, however, I tried to skip the parking altogether before Sadd and police told me that parking was part of the experiment.

The next person to go was Krishna, whose blood alcohol level was 0,05 g — the legal limit.

Krishna drove the track, navigating around the cones without knocking any over. She said although she “felt fine” she was “absolutely stunned” that she had already reached the legal limit after just 100 ml of red wine.

Banha and Viljoen again raced the track without incident, but their times were faster than when they completed their first lap sober.

After my second glass of wine, my blood alcohol level was 0,07 g. I was over the limit and slightly unsteady on my feet. This lap was my fastest time but I felt less in control weaving in between the cones and could not avoid hitting one.

My reverse parking also saw me hit a cone, and drag it under the car for a good few metres before eventually stopping.

Krishna, after her second glass, had a blood alcohol level of 0,06 g. She hit her first cone during this lap. Viljoen and Bahna completed the lap after their second drinks with their fastest times.

Although neither hit any cones, both reported feeling “more confident and brave” and therefore driving faster. After the third glass, my blood alcohol level had reached 0,09 g and while my time was faster than my sober lap my steering was clumsy.

I hit one cone during this lap, however, all four of us had been driving around the same course multiple times now so we’d had time to get used to the track and there were no unexpected surprises.

Sadd founder Smit said minor accidents such as bumping or scratching your car are common with a blood alcohol level just over the legal limit. When it reaches 0,15 g fatal accidents are more likely.

“If your blood alcohol level is 0,15 mg and you feel you are okay to drive then this means you are a practised drinker but this does not mean that your driving will not be impaired.”

Although the experiment was not truly scientific and the amounts of alcohol consumed were not large, we could feel and see the effects of driving under the influence.

While some might feel able to get behind the wheel after consuming three or four beers or glasses of wine, our tests showed one’s reaction time in the face of emergency will be severely impaired.

If an animal had to run across the road or a car were to brake suddenly a drunk driver would not be able to avoid disaster.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  drunk driving

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