Take Note: new 0% blood-alcohol limit from June 2020

You’ve probably noticed additional roadblocks and checkpoints on South African roads already. This is due to the new legislation that will be implemented in June 2020. Currently, your blood may not have an alcohol content of more than 0.05%, but with the new legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers, it will be 0%.

This law forms part of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act, which was proposed by Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula in November 2019. “We are going to be intolerant to drinking and driving. We’re going beyond saying there’s some percentage – it must be zero percent. It’s going to be zero. No alcohol in the blood – and the law is going to bite with regard to that,” he said.

Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) says it supports the incoming law and that it will help put an end to the confusion around the legal blood-alcohol limit. Mbalula added that the new legislation received overwhelming support from citizens; out of 500 000 comments received, only one allegedly queried the zero-tolerance rule.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) raised the following concern. “The regulations say those who lose their licences due to the accumulation of the maximum demerit points may be informed by registered post or electronic means, but the AARTO Act says only registered post may be used. This makes the regulation void.” OUTA also listed 22 errors in cross-referencing in the regulations saying that the way the regulations were drafted makes it difficult to read and interpret.

What will happen if you get caught?

With the new stricter drunk driving laws, you’ll also see the introduction of the much-discussed driving demerit system. According to the South African Police Service (SAPS), those over the limit will be arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence of Liquor.

With the reclassification, drunk driving will be a schedule 5 offence placing it in the same schedule of crimes such as murder or rape. Persons arrested for drunk driving will spend a minimum of 7 days behind bars before they may be considered for bail, which can be denied in some situations. Depending on your prior convictions, you could face a two-year prison sentence, a R2000 fine, or both. You will receive a criminal record, and you could lose your driver’s license, or have it suspended.

With the demerit system, a driver may incur no more than 12 demerit points without their license being suspended. On the 13th point, and every point thereafter, your license will be suspended for three months for every point over 12. If you incur 15 demerit points, for example, the suspension period will be nine months.

Over the 2019 festive season, almost 25 000 drunk drivers were arrested by the police for drunk driving. During a media briefing on festive road stats, Police Minister, Bheki Cele announced that alcohol consumption was at the centre of most crimes.

Dr Leana Olivier, CEO of FARR, said, “A zero-tolerance limit, within a country where we have got such a big problem with drunken driving, is most probably the way to go.” This new law could be the end of the road for drunk drivers in South Africa. To be safe, people under the influence should instead consider using a ride-hailing application such as Uber or Bolt.

What to know: new driver’s demerit system

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Bill into law in August 2019. The new law will introduce a demerit system that could ultimately end with Johannesburg’s habitual traffic offenders’ driver’s licences being suspended.

If implemented, it will be beneficial to all road users, but we’re left with tons of questions – is this more a ‘money-spinner’ than an aid? Will this really resolve current traffic problems, or will the rest of South Africa just be more cautious than ever before? Will this European point system really work in our rainbow nation?

We don’t have the answers, but if it could reduce the high rate of road deaths (over 14 000 road deaths annually with an economic impact of R146bn), we could surely try it. The system will also have a direct effect on car insurance, as it could potentially be linked to an underwriting criterion as it does reflect driving behaviour. Drivers with a poor record on this system could face higher premiums, while good drivers could benefit from better premiums. Whatever the case may be, here is what you need to know about the new driver demerit system.

How will the new driver demerit system work?

Every driver will start with zero points to their name and will face a three-month licence suspension if they exceed 12 points. One point is reduced every three months if no further violations occur, but the licence will be permanently cancelled if suspended three times.

The suspended driver will then have to reapply for testing as if they are a first-time licence applicant. The new system will also encourage drivers to speed up paying traffic fines – if not paid up, the system will prevent you from renewing your driver’s licence and vehicle licence.

Traffic offences that would add to demerit points

These points will work on a cumulative basis and will be allocated per violation as opposed to per incident. From the lowest to the highest allocation of points:

  • Using and holding a mobile phone while driving will be one demerit point.
  • Skipping a stop sign (light vehicles) is one demerit point, and for buses and trucks, it’s two points.
  • Speeding can be between two and six points, depending on the speed limit.
  • Driving without a licence equals four demerit points.
  • Driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance will be six demerit points.

Click here for the full list of violations, penalties and demerit points.

How can you avoid points piling up?

  • Adhere to speed limits.
  • Maintain a safe following distance between your car and the car ahead of you.
  • Put away your mobile phone – whatever it is, it can wait until you reach your destination.
  • Look after your vehicle – make sure it’s roadworthy at all times.
  • If your vehicle is being used as public transport, it’s a legal requirement to test your vehicle for roadworthiness annually.
  • Be courteous and adhere to good road manners.
  • Respect road rules and fellow motorists.
  • Be more tolerant and patient to avoid aggressive driving.