Zero alcohol limit: How you'll be hit

CAPE TOWN - Having a beer or a glass of wine before a meal or drinking cough syrup before hitting the road could see you fined or tossed in jail as the Department of Transport has proposed a zero blood-alcohol limit.

A proposal to cut to ZERO the current maximum alcohol level of 0.05g/100 ml of blood was published earlier in January 2015 in the Government Gazette. The legal alcohol level was dropped from 0.08g/100ml in 1996.

Those who wish to comment on the new bill and drink-driving restrictions, have until February 27 2015 to respond as the draft bill has yet to go through the parliamentary process.


The original National Road Traffic act reads: "No person shall on a public road- (a) drive a vehicle; or (b) occupy the driver's seat of a motor vehicle the engine of which is running, while the concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken from any part of his or her body is not less than 0.05g/100ml, or in the case of a professional driver referred to in section 32, not less than 0.02g/100ml."

The amended bill reads:
"No person shall on a public road (a) drive a vehicle or (b) occupy the driver's seat of a motor vehicle the engine of which is running, while THERE IS concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken from any part of his or her body."

According to the draft bill, then the section governing the blood-alcohol amount/limit has been omitted, meaning if you're found driving with ANY concentration of alcohol in your blood, you can be charged.


Although welcomed by road safety organisations the law, if enforced, could have dire financial consequences for restaurant owners managers, not to mention drivers. Wheels24 asks: "What if you're suffering from a cold/flu and consume medicine that contains alcohol? What if you unfortunately consume a vrot apple, the fermented nature of which could see you fined?"

The bill was first proposed in 2011 by then minister of transport, S’bu Ndebele who had been in meetings with the Automobile Association for two years before it was proposed to parliament.

Click here to read the full Government Gazette

AA spokesperson Marius Luyt said alcohol played a major role in SA road deaths. He said a zero alcohol level would not be too drastic as current levels are currently very low, reports Beeld.


The chairman of Justice Project SA, Howard Dembovsky, said however: "The advantage is it sends a clear message against drunk driving but the disadvantage is that people will be criminalised over any type of alcohol."

Dembovsky pointed out that alcohol could appear on your breath through medicines or fruit, which could lead to illegal arrests and court cases. Dembovsky said it was very difficult to predict if the proposed amendments would become law.


In 2013, then Western Cape MEC of transport and public works, Robin Carlisle, rejected proposals by the National minister of transport, Dipuo Peters, to reduce the legal alcohol level from 0.05g/100ml to 0.02g/100ml, stating that it would have no affect in reducing SA road deaths.

If the MEC believes 0.02g/100ml wouldn't have an affect in curbing crashes, what about a zero blood-alcohol limit?

Carlisle said: "It doesn’t help to drop the level to 0.02g/100ml if you can’t catch and convict drunk drivers at the current 0.05g/100ml. I remain firmly opposed to the proposed lowering of the blood-alcohol limit and maintain that quick and harsh convictions must be the focus instead.

"Blood Alcohol Content Limit defines the maximum legal amount of alcohol that is permitted to be in the blood for people to legally drive. In our submissions to the Department of Transport, we pointed out that there is still no scientific evidence to show that if the existing acceptable levels of alcohol consumption are further reduced, that there will be a decline in the number of crashes.

"Further, there was no proof that drivers with alcohol concentration levels of 0.05g /100ml are more dangerous than those with alcohol concentration levels of up to 0.02g/100ml."

The current limit at 0.05g/100ml is similar to the following countries:


Wheels24 says: "Countries around the world that have drink/driving laws have set a low alcohol level - such as the 0.05 and 0.02g/100ml in South Africa - precisely because of that which Dembovsky outlines above. A few teaspoons of cough mixture will be enough to signal an illegal-alcohol reading in a road block.

"We're going to send people to jail for the weekend because they have a cold? Please guys, a little common sense here."

Vote on Wheels24's 'zero alcohol' poll, write in the Readers' Comments section below or email us at Wheels24 with you thoughts.

Department of transport contact details:

Email -
Postal Address:  PO Box X83 Marshalltown 2017  
Tel: 011 355 7000

Western Cape:
Email -
Postal Address: Private Bag X9129, CAPE TOWN, 8000
Tel: 021 465 7260 / 7261 / 7262 / 7263 / 7264

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