Seven days to sober up for drunk drivers
On the eve of the festive season, the Road Traffic Management Corp (RTMC) is pushing for tougher action against those arrested for drunk driving - including making them spend at least seven days behind bars before they can be considered for bail.
In a new policy proposal to the department of justice, the RTMC asks that driving under the influence (DUI), speeding and reckless or negligent driving be reclassified in terms of the Criminal Procedures Act.
The RTMC wants the department to change DUI from a schedule 2 to a schedule 5 offence, which would mean that motorists arrested for it would receive harsher treatment from the courts.
The proposal recommends that DUI suspects be treated in the same way as those accused of serious crimes such as rape, murder, theft and fraud.
At present, many of those arrested for DUI can be granted bail by the police within hours of being taken into custody.
Makhosini Msibi, CEO of the RTMC, said the law needed to be tightened to fight the scourge of DUI, which he said was the leading cause of road accidents and fatalities, especially during the holiday season.
Compulsory day in court
"We have engaged the department of justice and continue to do so with a view to redefine the traffic offences," he said.
"We want drunk driving to be schedule 5 as opposed to schedule 2.
"Currently, if we arrest you for drunk driving you can be granted bail in terms of section 59 of the Criminal Procedure Act, and the senior person at the police station can offer bail.
"But if we then escalate it to schedule 5 or schedule 6, it should be a formal bail application [in court].
"Above all, it must not be automatic, you must spend seven days before you can bring the application for bail," Msibi said.
But Professor James Grant of the School of Law at Wits University said an umbrella approach would be futile, and that a better way to crack down on traffic offences would be to have more traffic officers on the roads and to strictly enforce the existing laws.
"The idea that you're going to curb traffic offences and solve the problem by making it harder to get bail is preposterous," he said.
It was also absurd to equate speeding with murder and rape, Grant said.
It might make sense to classify DUI as a schedule 5 offence when it was a factor in a fatal traffic accident, he said.
"If they are suggesting that [DUI] be given attention, then they can make a proposal that when one is suspected to be responsible for an accident while intoxicated, and a person dies, that could be in schedule 5 and specific arguments could be made for that," Grant said.
Visible policing needed
"What will curb crime is not the severity of punishment but the certainty of punishment. So if they could get out onto the road and actually enforce the law, that could make a significant difference."
Msibi said the RTMC was seeking tougher action in part because of the rising financial costs of road accidents for the government. The costs were unsustainable and represented money that could have been invested in essential services.
Last year alone, the 14,750 recorded road accidents cost the taxpayer R172bn, an increase of R9bn from the previous year.
Msibi said the bulk of the costs incurred by the state were related to medical and insurance claims.
He said the leading cause of accidents was drunk driving, followed by reckless driving, vehicles that were not roadworthy and motorists who obtained their driver's licences illegally without learning the rules of the road.