Drunk driving is one of the biggest dangers on South African roads. Research shows that 50% of people who die on the road have a blood alcohol concentration of above 0,05 g per 100 ml.
Anti-drinking and driving campaigns worth millions of rands by alcohol brands have no tangible effect in discouraging motorists from getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. Such initiatives are futile, as enforcement of the legislation is not carried out to the full extent of the law.
Instead of channelling the budget into anti-drinking and driving advertising campaigns, alcohol brands should rather sponsor the enforcement of road safety laws if their intention is to promote consumer safety.
The vague and pervasive “Drink responsibly” message featured in alcohol advertisements neglects to explain what safe drinking entails, promoting instead consumer loyalty to the brands positioned alongside such slogans. In relying on this message, the alcohol industry seeks to excuse itself from harm that results from heavy, and even moderate, drinking.
Whether it be from the safety or marketing department, the focus needs to be shifted to where it belongs: enforcing the law rather than glamorising behaviour that contravenes the law, or desensitising consumers to the quantifiable dangers of drinking and driving.
“Drink responsibly” is not saving lives. It is time for alcohol manufacturers to take responsibility and acknowledge the danger their products pose to society – and take genuine steps to counter the harm caused in a manner that is not disingenuous.
According to law, a driver’s blood may not have an alcohol content reading exceeding 0,05% per 100 ml of blood. The legal breath alcohol limit is less than 0,24 mg in 1 000 ml of breath. This means that even after just two drinks, an individual could be over the limit.
Alcohol marketing departments need to truly focus on encouraging “responsible” consumption and find more meaningful ways to champion the cause. This could include sponsoring training for the police officers tasked with upholding and enforcing the rules of the road. Such measures could extend to funding equipment for roadblock alcohol testing, ensuring that there is an adequate supply of breathalysers and testing apparatuses; also aiding training for officers in the use of said equipment, and educating them on the effects of alcohol on the body and how the body works to process alcohol.
In 2015, it was reported that 44 526 cases of drunk driving had been withdrawn from South African courts. The reasons include the incompetence of officials at various stages of the investigation, inappropriate blood sample retention and storage, and invalid sample analysis.
To ensure that South African roads are safer, and to effectively prevent the deaths of road users, government must take a robust approach to the legalities involved in alcohol advertising – like with the advertising of cigarettes and tobacco products.
Merely instructing consumers to “Drink responsibly” is no longer enough to discharge this responsibility.
- Rhys Evans is the managing director of ALCO-Safe