Alcohol abuse – South Africa’s shame

March 2012

South Africa has one of the highest per capita alcohol consumption rates in the world, with over 30% of the population struggling with an alcohol problem or on the verge of having one.

While statistics suggest that alcohol affects around 17.5 million South Africans, Telesure MD, Thomas Creamer, believes the burden of alcohol abuse is felt heavily by many more millions of South Africans.

“You need only look at the country’s road accident statistics for an inkling of the impact of alcohol abuse on the country’s people. Even if you do not drive under the influence of alcohol, the chances that you are sharing the road with someone who is drunk are extremely high, says Creamer.

He continues: “Frighteningly, when you are on the road at night, one out of every seven drivers on the road with you is drunk. Drunk drivers cause accidents and snuff out innocent lives on the country’s roads almost daily, indirectly affecting numerous lives in the process.”

In 2009, the World Health Organisation’s “Status Report on Road Safety in Countries of the WHO African Region” reported that 60% of road traffic deaths in South Africa involve alcohol, while the South African Medical Research Council suggests that alcohol is a factor in 50% of all road accidents.

In South Africa, the legal blood alcohol concentration is 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres and the legal breath alcohol concentration is 0.24 milligrams per 1 000 millilitres. For someone of average weight, just two or three glasses of wine is enough to push them well over the legal limit.

“In a country where drinking alcohol is so widely socially acceptable and where there is a poor public transport system and an even poorer regard for road traffic regulations, people don’t think twice about getting behind the wheel of their cars after drinking. A much tougher stance must be taken against those who drive or venture onto the roads drunk,” Creamer says.

The consequences of driving drunk can be severe.

“When you drive drunk you put your life and the lives of your passengers and fellow road-users at risk. If you are caught driving under the influence and you are found to be over the legal limit, you will be arrested and taken into police custody. The maximum penalty for drunk driving is R120 000 and/or six years in jail. Your licence could also be suspended.

“There is also an insurance implication because if you are involved in a car accident and your insurer discovers you were driving drunk or negligently, your claim may not be paid,” warns Creamer.

Creamer concludes: “With the Easter long-weekend just around the corner, we urge road-users to drink responsibly. It is extremely dangerous to drive drunk and to put the lives of others at risk is quite simply despicable. If you happen to overdo it or the person you are driving with appears drunk, rather call a friend or family member to fetch you. Alternatively, call one of the many taxi services that are available in the metropolitan areas. The message is clear: Don’t drive drunk.”