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South Africa’s New Zero-tolerance Drunk Driving Law

During March 2020, the South African Cabinet approved the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill (“the Bill”) for submission to Parliament. The Bill proposes amendments to the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 (“the Act”).

The most prominent amendment to the Act is the change of the alcohol level limit of drivers in South Africa to zero.

The current legal alcohol level limit in terms of the Act is less than 0.05 grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or, for professional drivers, less than 0.02 grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, when measured via a blood sample. When measured by breathalyser, the current measure is 0.24 milligrams of alcohol per 1,000 millilitres of breath, and for professional drivers, it is 0.10 milligrams of blood per 1,000 millilitres of breath.

The Bill does not amend the methods of testing alcohol levels, penalties, or any other part of current legislation that deals with the alcohol level of drivers. It merely deletes the sections of the Act that specify the permitted level of alcohol for drivers.

Clause 46 of the Bill provides that—
“No person shall on a public road—
(a) drive a vehicle; or
(b) occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle the engine of which is running,
while there is any concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken [or of breath exhaled] from any part of his or her body.” [own emphasis added]

In essence, soon South Africans will not be permitted to drive if they have had any alcohol whatsoever. President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that this amendment is necessary to address the crisis South Africa faces where roughly 14,000 persons are killed on our national roads annually.

Some of the other amendments to the Act are as follows:

The Bill provides for the suspension and cancellation of the registration of an examiner for driving licences or an examiner of vehicles, if such person has been convicted of an offence listed in Schedule 1 or 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51, or has a direct or indirect conflict of interest in the examination. The cancellation or suspension of an examiner’s registration as such seems rather arbitrary and it is unlikely that it will pass constitutional muster.

The Bill also now requires the registration and grading of driving school instructors, training centres and driving schools; and prohibits the use of unauthorised aid during a test for a learner’s licence or a driving licence test, as well as the disqualification therefor.

Furthermore, in terms of the Bill, inspectors of licences, examiners for driving licences and traffic officers are no longer required to obtain a diploma to meet the minimum requirements to work as such but must now merely obtain the appropriate qualification to do so.

Clause 43 of the Bill authorises a person who drives an emergency vehicle in the carrying out of his or her duties or a person driving a vehicle while responding to a disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 to disregard road traffic signs, permitting such person to disregard the directions of a road traffic sign and in the case where such vehicle is approaching certain intersections, such driver to stop at the intersection and proceed only when it is safe to do so.

Accordingly, the Bill effectively expands the ambit of emergency vehicles that may exceed the speed limit and disregard the road traffic signs. This addition appears to be in conflict with the theme of the Bill, which is to reduce the number of accidents and deaths on our national roads.

In addition, clause 44 of the Bill reads that the driver of an emergency vehicle who drives such vehicle in the carrying out of his or her duties or a person driving a vehicle while responding to a disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 may not exceed a speed of 20 kilometres per hour through an intersection.

Reference List:

  • https://www.businessinsider.co.za/the-blood-alcohol-limit-for-drivers-in-sa-is-set-to-nil-in-a-draft-law-2020-6
  • https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-10-24-toughen-the-law-one-drink-is-too-many-if-youre-driving/
  • National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996
  • National Road Traffic Amendment Bill

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)