Imagine the jubilation, shock and celebration across the country if the Minister of Transport’s January post-festive road transport report announces that road accidents, injuries and fatalities have magically dropped halved. A seemingly impossible idea, right?
Granted, road safety relies on many factors and some of them are beyond the control of the driver. However, significant personal and behavioural factors are well within the driver’s control. These include steering clear of the driver’s seat after consuming alcohol. By helping to reduce alcohol-fuelled road collisions we can make a real difference to safety during the festive season.
Driving under the influence is a form of irresponsible drinking
The message remains simple – don’t drink and drive. Alcohol reduces the driver’s judgment and control of the vehicle. Therefore, Aware.org and our members across the alcohol value chain regard drinking and driving as a form of irresponsible drinking. We strive to address the behaviours and mindsets that cause some drivers to risk their lives and those of others, their livelihoods and even their freedom by driving after drinking.
Aware.org also collaborates with the transport sector, including the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), whose 2019 review on alcohol consumption and its implications for road traffic crashes logically concluded that weak enforcement of laws and regulations increases the rate of alcohol-related road incidents. With this in mind, Aware.org has been helping to strengthen enforcement of laws on drinking and driving.
On a journey to safety
The good news is that the strategies we are part of make it easier to identify and prosecute intoxicated drivers and are showing irrefutably encouraging results. Effective evidential blood alcohol testing (EBAT) technology is central to the road safety programmes implemented through partnerships involving the authorities – including the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) – Aware.org and other role players in the alcohol industry.
Our interventions help to tighten enforcement by exposing drivers to several deterrents to drinking and driving: more frequent and visible driving-under-the-influence interventions, evidence that stands up in court, and more efficient legal processes that result in more convictions. These factors increase the likelihood of moving from irresponsible driver to convicted offender.
Since the partnership was activated in April this year the JMPD has noted a six percent drop in drunk driving incidents compared to the same period last year.
Our intervention also offers an evidence-based behaviour change programme as an option to penalties, if recommended by prosecution, for qualifying offenders. This diversion programme is run by our partner, the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO), and it assists offenders to become aware of their behaviour and develop the capacity to change. Most participants successfully rejoin the driving community without committing further driving-related offences.
Driving sober is the obvious choice
As we approach the holiday season – a time of parties, good times, celebrations, and indulgence – it may be time to confront our own attitudes. Do you think it is fine to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol? Do you rely on in-the-moment decisions on whether to drive home – after your thinking has been clouded by alcohol? Are you the ever-‘generous’ host who keeps the refills flowing without a thought about guests’ safety?
If so, you need to take stock and look at the options.
The industry is increasingly catering for party goers who prefer not to take alcohol through a range of 0% products that provide the taste without any of the driving downsides of alcohol.
Most urban and peri-urban areas have convenient and relatively inexpensive door-to-door transport alternatives to self-driving.
The designated driver is a tried-and-tested solution.
Being responsible takes just a little bit of thought and planning. It may seem easier to go with the flow and leave your safety (and that of others) to chance . . . until you reflect on the possible consequences. It is far easier to manage your use of alcohol than to live with a criminal record or the remorse of causing injury or death.
From designated offender to responsible driver
There are only positives to be derived from making the personal choice to always be a responsible driver. And it’s never too later to begin, as a past offender and “graduate” from the NICRO diversion programme shows.
“As a result of the NICRO [programme], I made significant changes ... I learned to identify and deal with the problems that motivated my criminal behaviour – to be specific, my driving behaviour … I have developed new skills that will help me to avoid committing crime. I was facing a long prison sentence but, thanks to NICRO, I was able to avoid that.”
The road ahead
Aware.org’s goal is to facilitate similar locally rooted and relevant road safety partnerships in at least two other high-risk provinces over the next three years. In the meantime, we can all be a part of a journey of safety with the #AlwaysOn mindset. This attitude will go a long way towards protecting lives and contributing to a happier, safer, rejuvenating holiday season.
As we approach this holiday season, let's engrain the #AlwaysOn mindset within ourselves and our communities. By choosing responsible actions, avoiding drinking and driving, and embracing safer alternatives, we pave the way for a brighter, accident-free future. The efforts put into road safety initiatives bear fruit when each of us takes responsibility. Let's celebrate joyously, keep the roads safe, and ensure that our festivities are filled with cheer, not regret. Here's to a season of merriment, shared responsibly, as we drive towards a safer, happier tomorrow.