South Africa

Road traffic amendment bill aimed at saving lives and billions in social grants and RAF payouts: Mbalula

Road traffic amendment bill aimed at saving lives and billions in social grants and RAF payouts: Mbalula

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says his department's new bill aimed at cutting out corruption at licensing offices, regulating driving schools and curbing alcohol-related crashes will save lives and the state billions in social grants and Road Accident Fund payouts.

The National Road Traffic Amendment Bill of 2019 — the submission of which was approved by the cabinet in March and published on Monday — proposes to amend section 65 of the act by stating that no person on a public road may drive a vehicle or occupy the driver's seat of a vehicle, the engine of which is running, while there is any concentration of alcohol in any specimen of blood taken.

Currently, SA law allows drivers to have up to 0.05g of alcohol per 100ml — or in the case of a professional driver 0.02g per 100ml.

The bill also proposes tighter regulations for driving schools and driver training centres where in some instances fraud and corruption have been rife.

In January Mbalula revealed at the release of statistics for the 2019/2020 festive season  that “the number of people who lose life and limb on our roads is alarming and the cost to the economy is in excess of R168bn”.

He told TimesLIVE this week that the bill’s main focus was to promote road safety and reduce road carnage.

“Road crashes have a negative effect on our economic growth due to a high number of people who, due to their being rendered unable to work, are then unable to contribute to the economy of the country.

Mbalula said drunk driving also had a “huge bearing” on social security because survivors of accidents, unable to work, become dependent on social grants which result in the state having to increase its spending.

“The driving schools are a key role player in our endeavour to reduce road crashes and carnage on our public roads.”

However, Howard Dembovsky, chair of Justice Project SA — an NGO advocating for the improvement of road traffic law and enforcement — is not convinced the proposed changes will make a dent in road accident statistics.

“Whether there is an allowable threshold of alcohol in a person’s blood or breath sample or not is irrelevant.

“The problem SA currently faces is that very few driving under the influence arrests result in convictions.

“Removing the limit will not change that. Our courts will still not convict anyone if the state fails to provide the requisite evidence.

“Without wishing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, all we can see this achieving is increasing the number of arrests for driving under the influence — not increasing the conviction rate or reducing the number of intoxicated drivers on our roads and/or reducing carnage.”

But Dembovsky said the “obvious upside”  is that it would remove doubt regarding “how much is too much liquor”.

When it comes to driving schools and instructors, the bill seeks to regulate the industry by “requiring all driving schools to be registered and graded by the relevant MEC, and the operation of unregistered and ungraded driving schools is prohibited”.

The bill also empowers MECs to suspend or cancel the registration of a driving school, seeks to prohibit examiners from having vested financial interests in driving schools and proposes there be more stringent requirements for the registration and grading of driving school instructors.

The Southern African Institute of Driving Instructors (SAIDI) believes the government is pushing for the tightening of legislation for the industry to reduce road carnage and the financial cost to the economy.

SAIDI's Robert Chandler said: “SAIDI has long recognised the need for regulation and standards and has strongly pushed the agenda during our participation at various legislative forums.”

But Chandler warned that it would be “extremely naive to believe that corruption would be rooted out.

“Corruption is horrendous. Unfortunately it is not merely confined to operators who are known as unregistered or unregulated. Unscrupulous “legitimate” operators also exploit the opportunity to increase income by unsavoury means.”