Harsher penalties for drunk drivers? More than 6500 say it won't make a difference

Cape Town - The Minister of Transport, Joe Maswanganyi, called for harsher sanctions to combat drunk and negligent driving – including a mandatory prison sentence of at least two years if a motorist is convicted of either offence.

The Minister’s call comes in the wake of a shocking 51% increase in the number of fatalities on South Africa’s roads during the 2017 Easter long weekend during which 235 people lost their lives in crashes.

Half of those killed were passengers in vehicles, while pedestrians accounted for less than 25% of fatalities.

READ: Prison for drunk drivers: RMI supports harsher sentences

We asked readers whether they believed harsh penalties would curb drunk driving on our roads.

Voting booth: Will harsher penalties deter motorists from driving drunk?
Yes - 38%/5825 votes
No - 42%/6533 votes
There's not enough evidence to support either side - 20%/3149

Readers respond

Ros: Take away the drivers' licences of those whom are guilty. Only way to stop this.

Eben: I think alcoholic products must indicate that driving under the influence is dangerous and the volume of the product, according to your weight, that will most probably place you over the limit and that you should not drive a car. This information must at least take up a third of the label space on each and every drink that contains alcohol.

Masango : I think the reason people drive drunk, is that they don’t feel safe walking because of high levels crime in our country. Everyone feels safe in his/her car.

Dumisani : As a start, the drivers licence should be confiscated when a person gets arrested for drunk driving until the case is finalised in court. When the matter is finalised court should make an order whether the license should be suspended or returned to the drive. That would make people think twice about getting behind a wheel after consuming alcohol.

Andre: Driving under the influence is dangerous and irresponsible, but to compare it to rape and murder is simply ridiculous. These people who want to go to extremes without thinking it through are only adding to the problem.

So, now they want to send a young person to prison with real rapists and murderers, when all he/she did wrong was to make a poor decision during a night out? All they would have accomplished through this was to create another hardened criminal to be released back into society. Also, did they consider the possibility that a person, driving while intoxicated, might choose to flee from the police, instead of facing a prison sentence? Imagine the carnage!

I agree that strict measures should be taken to stop drunk driving, ie. Revoke their drivers license and make them reapply after a year and confiscate their car, even if it's not registered to them etc. And if a life is lost, or people are injured as a result of drunk driving, then yes, impose harsher punishments.

Ultimately, I agree that friends, family and society will have a far greater impact on curbing this menace than government ever could.

What government should do: 
Make people take an IQ test before appointing them to any position
Discuss matters with people who are reasonably intelligent, before making idiotic statements to the press
Focus on the real problem at hand - the taxis, who do whatever they want and the police, who do nothing about it!

Peter: I live in Australia, where over the Easter weekend in New South Whales we had 5 road deaths, caused by a variety of problems. I have driven in South Africa for many years, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, that there are several very basic differences between the drivers of the two countries.

In Australia road behaviour is instilled to the youth from kindergarten, while in South Africa one only gets taught the rules of the road when taking out a driver's licence.

But above all else, the officers monitoring drivers and the traffic do so conscientiously and fully aware of the responsibility of their task. 

In SA the traffic police is virtually non-existent. The only real time you see them in action, is when they position themselves so as to catch the users of cellphones while at the wheel. And then, as little as R50 for KFC will let you off. Or at a road block, where one can see the officer leaning over the door finalising the deal for a let-off.

I have driven at night on the highways around Johannesburg, and have seen a great number of cars, SUVs and trucks with faulty lights, front and rear. And where are the traffic officers? Nowhere to be seen, as it is past 5pm. There is no political will to enforce the laws, of which there are many, and perfectly adequate for the problem facing South African roads. Teach the cops the responsibility of their position, and pay them adequately so that bribes do not have the same appeal as they have now.

I agree that heavier sentences for drunk driving can create serious problems for the family, but impounding the vehicle on the spot, for it to be retrieved from a pound after a fine is paid, would create sufficient monetary and time inconvenience to make the offender think seriously before driving under the influence of any substance.

I think South Africa is really a great country and I envy its people for being able to live in such a beautiful and colourful place. Pity about the crime in general, and the dangers on the roads in particular.

Please make the authorities see the errors of their ways and in no time the horrific statistics of the past weekend will be a thing of the past.

Garth: As part of our local Community Police Forum (CPF) we constantly find drunk drivers.  It is a daily occurrence and worst of all we can do nothing about it.  If we call saps they tell us to call metro, if we call metro they don't have vehicles available.

When speaking to the colonel of saps Lyttelton, he says it takes a minimum of 3hrs to take the drunk driver to the district surgeon, who often doesn't have a blood kit, then off to Garsfontein to the holding cells and then back to complete the documentation. SAPs is already severely limited in terms of officers and vehicles, and to take a vehicle off the road for 3hrs for a drunk driver is unacceptable. Therefore we have been instructed to assist drunk drivers by asking them if we can drive them home.

The other problem is bribing of officials... so even if drunk drivers are caught by saps/metro, which as described above almost never happens, there is a very high likelihood that you can get away with it by paying a bribe...and I have heard many people tell me that they have paid bribes before.

If we really want to address the problem, more has to be done by saps and metro to take action against drunk drivers, and controls put in place to speed up the process... like Intoxilyzers at all police stations and potentially more holding cells, or dedicated teams to transport drunk drivers to holding cells once tested.

The only way to address bribery is to continue to set up sting operations in order to catch corrupt officials, as well as to publicly make examples of people who attempt to bribe officials.

I challenge anyone who wants better knowledge of what we deal with on a daily basis, to do something for their community by joining their local CPF and getting out on the street to see how lawless it has become.

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