The missing puzzle piece - how breathalysers can transform road safety in South Africa

7/8/2024 10:53:00 AM

The missing puzzle piece - how breathalysers can transform road safety in South Africa

South Africa grapples with a grim reality on its roads  

By Rhys Evans, Managing Director at ALCO-Safe

South Africa grapples with a grim reality on its roads. A staggering 58% of road fatalities involve alcohol, yet the true extent of this crisis remains obscured by a critical flaw: inaccurate post-accident data collection. This lack of reliable data hinders the implementation of effective law enforcement policies to curb drunk driving and its devastating consequences.

The current system suffers from a significant absence of standardised procedures, as breathalyser tests, a vital tool for gathering concrete evidence of alcohol impairment, are not routinely administered after accidents. Addressing this challenge requires a bi-faceted approach: increased investment in resources and training, and a firm commitment to adopting international best practices. Without these steps, South Africa remains trapped in a cycle of inaccurate data and the persistence of alcohol-related road deaths.

The inaccuracy gap - a roadblock to progress

The most significant challenge lies in the fundamental inaccuracy of the data, and the absence of a set procedure for post-accident testing by law enforcement creates inconsistencies. Data is primarily gathered from a limited pool: individuals transported to hospitals for injuries or those randomly chosen for breathalyser tests at the scene, which paints an incomplete picture, rendering any statistics derived from this method unreliable.

In contrast, countries with established procedures paint a clearer picture. Imagine a scenario where every accident, regardless of severity, involves mandatory breathalyser testing for all parties involved. This comprehensive approach provides a wealth of accurate data, empowering policymakers to implement targeted solutions.

Illuminating the path forward to accurate data

The widespread availability of breathalysers needs to be a focus for law enforcement. Ideally, every police vehicle responding to an accident scene should be equipped with a breathalyser, which would allow for immediate testing and capturing a critical snapshot of a driver’s blood alcohol content at the time of the incident.

Using a breathalyser instrument, each test is uploaded to a secure cloud platform, creating an unalterable digital record. This eliminates the possibility of tampering with or manipulating results, fosters transparency, and reduces opportunities for corruption. Instruments connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to a dedicated app or directly to a smartphone, which then transmits the data to the cloud. 

This real-time approach eliminates the need for manual downloads, streamlining data collection, management, and reporting. The benefits of equipping police vehicles with breathalysers extend beyond immediate data collection. Breathalyser results can be used to direct law enforcement resources towards areas with the highest concentration of alcohol-related accidents, and this data can inform targeted enforcement efforts, such as increased weekend and peak roadblocks in high-risk areas.

Learning from global examples

Several countries have established successful models for breathalyser use in post-accident scenarios. A common thread is the existence of a well-defined protocol that mandates breathalyser testing for all parties involved in an accident. This standardised approach streamlines data collection and ensures its accuracy. 

The data gleaned from these tests goes beyond simple statistics. It provides valuable insights into the demographics most affected by drunk driving, allowing for targeted interventions. For instance, data revealing a higher prevalence of drunk driving among a specific age group can inform public awareness campaigns tailored to that demographic.

Addressing implementation barriers beyond cost

While cost is a significant hurdle, resource limitations pose another challenge. Police forces are often stretched thin, with limited personnel available to attend to non-critical accidents. This can lead to delays in post-accident testing, potentially rendering breathalyser results inconclusive.
In the interim, solutions like field sobriety testing can be explored. This training equips officers with the ability to assess a driver's possible intoxication without relying solely on breathalysers. While not a replacement for breathalyser results, field sobriety testing provides a valuable tool in resource-constrained situations.

The price of inaction

The consequences of failing to address data deficiencies in road safety are dire. Without accurate data, policymakers are left operating in the dark, unable to effectively target interventions where they are needed most. This lack of clarity translates into missed opportunities to save lives.

South Africa stands at a crossroads. The path to safer roads is paved with accurate data, and breathalysers are the key to unlocking their potential. By embracing international best practices and investing in resources, South Africa can embark on a data-driven journey towards a future where preventable drunk driving fatalities become a thing of the past. The tools and knowledge are readily available; the only missing ingredient is action.

Editorial contacts 

Rhys Evans 
Managing Director 
Tel: 012 343 8114 
Evolution PR
Mbali Makhubo
Tel: 072 407 9780


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