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This could happen to you…

The recently opened Alcohol Testing blood alcohol testing centre in Johannesburg, created by the South African Insurance Association (SAIA), in partnership with Business Against Crime South Africa and the Johannesburg Metro Police Department is certainly not the place where anybody would like to find themselves on a Saturday evening, or any other day or night.

“The new breathalyzer technology that is used in this centre now enables the police to obtain a breath alcohol sample, within minutes, that can be used as evidence of alcohol consumption in a court. In the past, a blood alcohol sample had to be taken, which delayed the process quite substantially,” says Wayne Minnaar, spokesperson for the South African Police Services (SAPS).

“It would have been ideal to give everybody in South Africa the opportunity to have a guided walk through a Alcohol Testing alcohol testing centre, of course, without the arresting officer and the people who are waiting to be tested because they are suspected to be under the influence of alcohol around, which would have been the case in a real situation. This experience as well as learning more about the devastating consequences of drunken driving, from being arrested like a criminal to having a criminal record after only two glasses of wine, would give people a big enough shock to realise the severity of such an offence,” says Viviene Pearson, SAIA Manager: Image & Reputation.

As part of the South African criminal justice system, new methods of no tolerance with regards to road safety are being put in place to benefit and protect everybody in our country. “Road safety initiatives should not be seen as a negative thing, as it could save your life or the life of a loved one,” says Ms Pearson.

In order to avoid ever having to face the consequences of drunken driving, it is important to have detailed knowledge around this up to now, grey area. As a public responsibility, SAIA has put together these interesting questions and answers in consultation with the JMPD (Wayne Minnaar) and Medi-Clinic (Dr Hannes Loots):

Question: What is the legal limit and how many drinks can one have before reaching the limit?

Answer: There is a difference between the legal limit of a blood sample and the legal limit of a breath sample. With a blood sample, alcohol consumption is measured in milligrams and the legal limit is 0.05 grams.

However, with a breath sample (as the case would be in an Alcohol Testing Centre), alcohol consumption is measured in millilitres and the legal limit is 0.24 milligrams per 1 000 millilitres of breath. Of course, much lower limits apply to people who have professional driving permits.

The new breathalyser technology that is used in the Randburg and Johannesburg Alcohol Testing Centres, allows for samples to be attached to the docket without having to take a blood sample to serve as evidence in court.

However, the breath and blood samples equates to the same volume of litres that an average person (who weighs approximately 70 kilogram) could consume, which is no more than approximately 2 glasses of wine, or no more that 2 glasses of beer, or no more than one double tot of spirit liqueur every two hours.

Question: What happens when you are taken to an Alcohol Testing Centre?

Answer: When stopped on the side of the road, for instance in a road block, the police officer will ascertain weather a driver is under the influence or not, by doing observations, such as looking into the person’s eyes (whether it is bloodshot), determining whether the person’s speech is slurred, determining whether the person is unsteady on his/her feet or smells of liqueur (sobriety test). Should the officer judge that the person might be under the influence, he/she will be placed under arrest and taken to an Alcohol Testing Centre.

At the Alcohol Testing Centre, you complete a breathalyser test (within a few minutes, depending on the number of people who need to give a breath sample) and a docket is completed.

The Alcohol Testing Centre has new intoxymetres (breathalyzers), which gives four print outs, each containing the case number, the date, the time, the person’s name and the alcohol reading. One print out goes into the docket, one goes to the person, one goes to the arresting officer for his records and the last one goes to the officer who does the test for his records. Any one of these copies can be used in court as evidence that a person has consumed alcohol.

You are then taken to a police station where the docket is handed in and where the person under the influence is placed in the police cells. The person may be released after sobering up and after paying bail. People who are unable to pay the bail, or who are extremely highly intoxicated, or who resist being arrested on the side of the road, might have to spend the night in prison.

The following day the person will be taken to a court where the case will be either postponed or heard. Should a person be found guilty for driving under the influence in court of law, he/she will have a criminal record for the rest of his/her life.

Question: Can big and strong people consume more alcohol than smaller people before reaching the same legal limit and why / why not?

Answer: The content may vary slightly from person to person, which is why the average person can consume no more than approximately 2 glasses of wine, or no more that 2 glasses of beer, or no more than one double tot of spirit liqueur every two hours. For instance, a bigger person with an empty stomach may have the same alcohol content as a smaller person who had eaten something. However, everybody has 6 litres of blood and therefore, the content variations will be so small that it would be almost insignificant.

Therefore, a muscular male weighing 120 kilogram (who have something substantial in his stomach) may be able to consumer more alcohol before looking or feeling drunk because of his metabolism and weight. However, should he be tested, his blood or breath sample would show the same reading as that of a very small person (with almost nothing in his/her stomach) who consumed the same amount of liquor.

Question: Would a person be able to sober up quicker (and lower his/her breath/blood alcohol reading) if he/she drink lots of water, eat a big meal, or chew chewing gum and why/why not? How long does it take to sober up?

Answer: If a person under the influence would, for instance, drink lots of water, it would help him/her to get the alcohol out of his/her system quicker, and then that person might appear sober; however, one can not lessen the amount (milligrams) of alcohol in ones system by mixing it with water (in an attempt to affect the blood/breath alcohol reading)

Question: Would it help if you blow softly or inhale when you are tested with an Alcohol Testing breathalyzer?

Answer: If a person does not blow hard enough to provide sufficient air into the breathalyzer, it would not give a reading, which means that the process would have to be repeated.

Question: If you are able to walk in a straight line and “feel fine”, are you necessarily in a condition to drive?

Answer: People who have consumed over the limit will normally be unable to walk straight on a straight line, however, alcohol affects different people differently, some people may feel fine and be able to walk on a straight line and still be over the limit. Usually, unfortunately when someone is over the limit they would feel more than fine, which is exactly the problem

Question: What will happen when you are over the limit and causes one of your passengers, or a pedestrian to lose his/her life?

Answer: You will face a charge of culpable homicide for causing the death of a person as well as a charge of drunken driving. However, court cases might have different outcomes as each case is based on its merits. One person (who is the sole provider for three kids for instance) might be released after paying a fine of R20 000 where another person might be jailed. However, in both cases the person will have a criminal record.

Question: If you are over the limit when tested, will the outcome always be a criminal record, or would it be possible to get away with a fine only?

Answer: After being found guilty of driving under the influence in court of law you will ultimately have a criminal record.

Question: How could one avoid causing an accident because of driving under the influence and what are the options if you realise that you should not drive after having a few drinks?

Answer: It is highly recommended that a driver who has consumed alcohol should rather arrange a cab to take him/her home, arrange with someone to come and fetch him/her and take him/her home, sleep over at the place if possible or, to appoint a dedicated driver who can be trusted not to consume alcohol to take him/her home. The JMPD strongly recommends that companies should make arrangements for people to be driven home after consuming alcohol at work functions.

Question: How long does it take to sober up enough to be able to drive after drinking too much? What could be done to speed up the process?

Answer: The more liquor the driver consumes, the longer it will take for the driver to sober up. It could even take until the next morning for the person to sober up.