Drunk driving a major cause of road deaths

Police keeping motorists in check in the city.

South Africa has more drunk driving- related deaths than anywhere else in the world, according to the 2015 Global Status report on Road Safety from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO report covers 180 countries across the globe, recording a total of 1.25 million road-traffic deaths a year. More than half of South Africa’s road-traffic deaths are alcohol-related, it says.

The highest number of road-traffic fatalities was recorded in low-income countries (24.1% of all deaths) and is the number-one cause of death among people aged 15 to 29 the world over. According to the WHO, you have a 26.6% chance of dying in a road accident in Africa, with the next most dangerous region being the Eastern Mediterranean, where it’s 19.9%.

In South Africa, says the report, 58% of the 13 800 road-traffic deaths recorded during the two-year study, over 2010 to 2011, were alcohol-related.

And the WHO estimates the country loses nearly 8% of its gross domestic product annually because of road accidents. This has prompted organisations and residents who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers, to call for even harsher sentences.

Last month, Bradley Gysman, the drunk driver who killed eight year-old Nadia Bond, of Kraaifontein, was sentenced to four years in prison. But is that enough?

In Durban, another drunk driver who killed three young men was given a 20-year sentence. He is appealing.

On the same day, on the other side of the world in San Diego, another drunk driver was sentenced to 16 years for killing a 41-year-old father and injuring three others.

Cape Town attorney Janine Myburgh says the law is not lenient and each case must be adjudicated upon its own peculiar set of facts.

Section 65 read with Section 89 of the National Road Traffic Act allows direct imprisonment for a maximum of six years for drunk-driving offences.

This is fairly severe, she says. But when there are further charges as a result, such as culpable homicide, those convictions carry their own punishment.

“The punishment must always fit the crime, but also the criminal. When someone is convicted and sentenced it is punishment for his wrongdoing and it has to serve as a deterrent to him and to others like him.

“The driver in Durban did not get 20 years because he was drunk. He got 20 years because he was drunk and killed three people.

“Someone can drive over the legal limit and get arrested at a roadblock. The next guy can also be over the legal limit, but he gets caught after he knocked someone over who then dies. The punishment in the second scenario will be far more severe.”

Ms Myburgh says while the judiciary has a duty to protect all citizens against lawbreakers in all circumstances, including drunken driving, it is indeed the duty of each and every citizen to keep our roads safe by being actively involved in the fight against this social evil.

“Remember friends do not let friends drive drunk.”

Her words were echoed by Caro Smit, the founder and director of South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD). She started the non-profit organisation after her 23-year-old son, Chas, was killed in September 2005 by a driver who had been drinking.

“Driving and drinking is a choice, not an accident.

“We support about 12 families at the moment who have lost loved ones in accidents and where the driver is being prosecuted. Jailing drunk drivers is now becoming more common and this is excellent news,” she says.

“We hope these jail sentences will start to act as deterrents for other people and help bring down our very high and preventable statistics. SADD ask for jail time for every drunk driver who kills or severely injures.”

For more information, go to www.sadd.org.za or visit the Arrive Alive website at www.arrivealive.co.za.