News24

Are young people the worst drunk drivers?

By: Emma Thelwell, News24 2014-09-03 10:18
Cape Town - A drunk driving campaign has spent the last month targeting young people in social hotspots, but are young people the worst culprits? News24 finds out.

The Drive Dry campaign, Go Places with Drive Dry, has been using social networking sites such as Facebook to challenge perceptions in South Africa that it is acceptable to drive under the influence.

Brandhouse Sustainability Manager, Zanele Njapha, told SABC: "We mostly target young people…their attitude is that 'it won’t happen to me' and they often don’t consider the legal ramifications."

How bad is drunk driving in SA?

Drunk driving in South Africa is an "enormous problem", according to Charlotte Sullivan

from the organisation South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD).

Indeed, 55% of all road traffic deaths in South Africa involve alcohol, statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show.

In the first six months of this year alone, almost 8 500 people were killed on South Africa’s roads, according to SADD.

What’s more, some 77 234 people were injured and 4 709 were paralysed.

What is the legal limit?

The legal limits should be "burnt into every motorist’s memory", says Gary Ronald, Head of Public Affairs for the AA (Automobile Association of South Africa).

In South Africa, the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05g per 100ml. One unit of alcohol is equal to 0.02g blood alcohol.

Ronald says the rule of thumb is a maximum of one unit of alcohol per hour - as our bodies can only process one unit of alcohol each hour. Though if you weigh less than 68kg your body will need more time to process the same amount of alcohol.

1 x 75 ml glass of wine = 1 unit

1 x 250 ml glass of wine = 3.3 units

1 x shot/shooter = ½ unit in most instances

1 x spirit cooler = about 1.25 units

1 x beer = 1.5 units or possibly more

1 x cider = 2 units

1 x 25 ml tot of spirits = 1 unit

Who is most at risk?

Not the drivers themselves, it would seem. According to figures from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), the highest number of fatalities is among passengers - who accounted for 37% of all road deaths in 2009/10.

The figures show that pedestrians accounted for 34% of deaths, while drivers themselves made up 29% of fatalities during the period.

Sullivan said that the number of people failing to wear seatbelts in South Africa is "absolutely abysmal" . She pointed to WHO figures which show that just 59% of drivers in South Africa bother to wear seatbelts and 67% of front seat passengers.

Sullivan said that recent research by SADD found that just 5% of backseat passengers wear seatbelts.

Why do people think they can get away with it?

Perhaps because they do. Conviction rates for drunk driving are notoriously low in South Africa. An investigation by the Sunday Times earlier this year found that in Durban Central police station alone, 1481 arrests in 2012 led to only 111 convictions - a rate of 7.5%.

In Cape Town, 3022 drunk drivers were arrested in 2012 and 3089 in 2013, with fewer than 7% convicted, according to a senior official with access to provincial statistics

Sullivan said policing is key. She told News24: "Sadly the biggest problem is lack of law enforcement - people know they can get away with it.

“It’s not rocket science - there are very simple things you can do that work overnight.

"In the UK, the US and Australia for example, death rates are really low because law enforcement is excellent. There’s also a social stigma attached [to getting caught]."

The death rate per 100 000 people is 3.7 in the UK, 11.4 in the US, 6.1 in Australia - and 31.9 in South Africa, according to WHO data.

Which age groups are taking the most risks?

Hector Eliott, chief director for road safety co-ordination at the department of transport and public works for the Western Cape government, said that if you look at convictions rates - men in their 40s and 50s are the biggest culprits.

However, he claimed that police are less sympathetic with older drivers.

Eliott told News24: "When police catch people they are inclined to give them warnings, and the criminal justice system would rather divert people from prison in the first place."

So the system is more lenient towards the young, according to Eliott.

Plus, if you look at official figures for road accident deaths in South Africa, they show that more people in their 20s die than any other age group. It is also overwhelmingly young men who fall foul to drunk driving.

In 2009, men between the ages of 20-29 accounted for 27% of all road accident deaths, according to the National Injury Mortality Survey, carried out by the Medical Research Council..

Almost four times as many men in that age group died than women - with 880 female deaths compared with 3 479 men.

WHO’s figures meanwhile show that across the world, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people aged between 15–29 years.

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