By Rhys Evans
SOUTH Africa’s problem with alcohol has been starkly highlighted against the backdrop of the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response, which included a complete prohibition on the sale of alcohol four times for a collective period of 160 days.
Now that South Africa has returned to the lowest alert level, restrictions on alcohol sales have been lifted and it’s back to business for the liquor industry. And with a number of petrol stations in South Africa obtaining a license to sell wine, there is concern that this extended availability will encourage South Africa’s drinking problem.
However, it must be pointed out that the availability of alcohol for purchase is not in itself problematic. The problem comes in when South Africans purchase and consume alcohol and then get behind the wheel to drive. To prevent this dangerous situation, it is necessary to deter motorists from drinking and driving which means that law enforcement measures must be visible, and unavoidable.
As alcohol availability becomes more convenient and extensive, enforcement of road rules needs to become stricter to ensure South African roads remain as safe as possible by deterring poor driving behaviour.
If more petrol stations were to apply for liquor licenses, it would be necessary to consider several factors relating to road safety, before the license can be granted. Where the location of the garage convenience store is within a suburb, this is analogous to a neighbourhood liquor store and poses no heightened danger to road safety. Allowing alcohol sales at convenience stores on long haul routes, however, could pose a risk for motorists.
While it’s tempting to think that the problem is going to get worse because of alcohol being easily accessible on the road, this does nothing to address the issue. Instead, we should be looking at South Africa’s drinking and driving problem as a whole.
This means that regardless of where alcohol is being sold, the police have a responsibility to ensure that drunk driving is not permitted. When granting additional liquor licenses, government needs to increase the rate of roadblocks by monitoring drivers to mitigate the risks that they’re creating by allowing more outlets to sell alcohol.
Regulations around licenses for petrol stations should stipulate that a license to sell liquor is subject to a responsibility to help law enforcement to tackle drunk driving. Here, garages could be compelled to donate. For example, they could be mandated to sponsor a proportionate number of breathalyser kits to their nearest police precinct to show that they’re not just there to turn a profit, but rather, show that they are just as concerned with support for anti-drunk-driving initiatives.
Regular roadside testing or roadblocks will need to be increased, which will require more police officers to be trained in breathalyser testing. This in turn will require more budget to be allocated to law enforcement for training and testing equipment in order to perform breathalyser tests on drivers at roadblocks more frequently and regularly, to decrease drinking and driving.
Penalties for drunk driving range from a fine of up to R120,000 or a maximum of six years in prison. Enforcement through roadside testing for alcohol must go hand-in-hand with arrest and stringent prosecution for exceeding the legal alcohol limit to have a proper deterrent effect on drinking and driving.
Rhys Evans is MD at ALCO-Safe.