With the arrival of the festive season, South Africans will be celebrating the holidays in customary animated fashion. While it is important to relax and have fun during this time, it is crucial to be mindful of the legal implications of drinking and driving.
The National Road Traffic Act sets out the legal limits and prohibitions for driving whilst under the influence. It provides that no one shall drive or even occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle (with the engine running) on a public road if their blood alcohol content is over the legal limit.
In respect of the legal limits, the Act differentiates between normal drivers and professional drivers (those drivers who hold professional driving permits). The concentration of alcohol in any blood specimen must be less than 0,05 gram per 100 millilitres, or in the case of a professional driver, less than 0,02 gram per 100 millilitres. The concentration of alcohol in any specimen of breath exhaled must less than 0,24 milligrams per 1 000 millilitres, or in the case of a professional driver less than 0,10 milligrams per 1 000 millilitres.
According to the general guidelines for prosecution in drunk driving cases just because there is no blood or breath sample does not mean that you cannot be prosecuted. If other evidence is available, for example, the testimony of an officer, their evidence may be sufficient.
There are also various prosecuting guidelines for evidentiary breath testing machines. Firstly, the equipment must be operated by a registered traffic officer who has an operator’s certificate of competence, meaning that he/she has passed an operator’s course for that particular model of machine. This operator’s certificate or a certified copy thereof must be kept in his/her possession. The equipment must comply with SANS (South African National Standard) standards and must be calibrated by an accredited laboratory at least once every six months after which a calibration certificate will be issued. A certified copy of this calibration certificate must be available on site. If any maintenance and repair is done on the equipment, it must be recalibrated and all calibrations, maintenance and repairs for each unit must be recorded in an equipment service record.
The National Road Traffic Act holds that no person shall refuse that a specimen of blood, or a specimen of breath, be taken of him or her. If you are stopped at a roadblock and a breathalyzer test determines that you are over the limit you will generally be taken into custody and sent for blood tests to be done by a doctor or registered nurse. You will be arrested and charged with driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor and driving while the concentration of alcohol in the blood or breath is over the specified limit. The charges of reckless or negligent driving and inconsiderate driving are also charges which you can be charged with. You will be held in custody until bail is posted after which you will appear in Court and the prosecutor will have to prove a criminal case against you.
If you are found guilty of driving under the influence and/or reckless and negligent driving, you could face fines or jail time, your licence or permit could be suspended and you will always have a criminal record, which is detrimental to your future. Even worse than this, is that driving under the influence of alcohol could lead to other serious consequences such as causing an accident, possibly leading to culpable homicide or murder charges being levelled against you.
Play it safe this festive season and appoint a designated driver or make use of hired transportation or taxi services. Contact the AA to find out more about our Designated Driver service, a pay-on-use service and a safe solution to drinking and driving.