The South African transport system is in focus during the Transport Month in October. Road safety however is in focus every day for the Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (Aware.org).
A Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) report indicates that in the period between 2016 and 2018, 5.5% (734 incidents) out of some 13 000 fatal road crashes were attributable to alcohol. While there is an urgent need for more current data, the crux of the matter is that all these incidents could have been prevented since driving after consuming alcohol is a personal choice.
We acknowledge that South Africa’s 750 000 kilometre road network is the longest in Africa and 10th longest in the world and that ensuring safety across this long and winding track is complex.
However, we can and must do better to make our roads safer and reduce the rate of crashes attributable to alcohol. Like most challenges, it is one that can best be tackled by involving everyone concerned – meaning all of us. At Aware.org, we refer to it as whole-of-society and it is the approach we follow to reduce harm related to irresponsible drinking.
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a form of irresponsible drinking
Alcohol reduces driving ability and the driver’s control of the vehicle. Hence Aware.org and our members from across the alcohol value chain regard drinking and driving as a key form of irresponsible drinking. Together, we strive to address behavioural and psychosocial factors that cause some drivers to risk lives, livelihoods and even their freedom when they get behind the wheel after drinking.
As the primary entity mandated with reducing harm due to alcohol, Aware.org collaborates with the transport sector, including the RTMC whose 2019 review of alcohol and implications for road traffic crashes in South Africa concluded that the lack of laws, regulations and policy enforcement increases the rate of alcohol-related road incidents. The policy enforcement factor is significant because Aware.org could and did do something about it.
On a journey to safety
The good news is that the latest strategies that aim to improve the enforcement of the National Road Traffic Act and make it easier to identify and prosecute intoxicated drivers are showing encouraging results.
Effective evidential blood alcohol testing (EBAT) technology is a central cog in road safety partnership programmes that are co-implemented by the authorities, including the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) and Aware.org and other role players in the alcohol industry.
The collaboration has recently advanced safety across Johannesburg roads, with the JMPD noting a six percent drop in drunk driving since April.
The intervention is closing the enforcement loops by exposing drivers to several deterrents to drinking and driving: more frequent and visible DUI enforcements, evidence that stands up in court and more efficient legal processes that results in a greater number of convictions. This makes the possibility of going from being a driver to being an offender much more likely.
As part of this intervention, qualifying offenders have the option for diversion at the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders. NICRO, which is also a partner of Aware.org, assists offenders to become aware of and change their behaviour in respect of road safety and committing crime. Most of them re-join the driving community without committing further driving-related crimes.
Driving sober is the obvious choice
Getting back to the drivers who think it is fine to sit behind the wheel after having alcohol: if we get to a point where we are deciding in-the-moment whether or not to drive after we have had alcohol, we are being irresponsible. The answer to that question is always no. Don’t drive after drinking.
By drunk-driving, we are stacking our odds against beefed up systems and collaborations across the system that are making it more difficult to get off easily. Yet getting caught is totally avoidable with various responsible options on the table, making driving sober the easy worry-free choice every time.
Different 0% and low-alcohol drinks are becoming recognisable on shop shelves and available in taverns and restaurants. Most urban and peri-urban areas have convenient and relatively inexpensive transport alternatives to self-driving. Many will do the responsible thing and agree on a designated driver for the group before the first drink.
From designated offender to designated driver
There are only positives to be derived from making the personal choice to always be the designated driver regardless of whether we have previously been an actual offender – or the one that got away. Personal stories from previous offenders offer additional inspiration to always be the designated driver.
“As a result of the NICRO [diversion], I made significant changes... I learned to identify and deal with the underlying 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 will be more aware… I was facing a long prison sentence, but thanks to NICRO, I was able to avoid that... This programme helped me to understand the root causes of my offending behaviour and develop skills and attitudes necessary to live a law-abiding life”.
“The [NICRO] programme has changed my thinking, changed my attitude, and changed my behaviour. What I will be doing differently from now is to take responsibility for my own actions.”
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 if we act as a designated driver every time we get into the driving seat. This attitude and behaviour would go a long way towards lowering the risk of road crashes, protecting lives and contributing to greater safety across our communities.
So which would you rather be? Designated Driver? Or… designated offender. It’s your decision.
In conclusion, the journey towards safer roads demands our collective commitment to responsible choices. As we strive to reduce alcohol-related incidents, the evidence is clear: effective enforcement, collaboration, and personal responsibility are making a difference. Whether in Johannesburg or beyond, choosing to be a Designated Driver is not just a decision; it's a commitment to a safer, more secure road ahead. Let us all play our part, embrace responsibility, and shape a future where Designated Drivers outnumber designated offenders, creating a lasting impact on road safety for our communities.