Drinking and Driving in South Africa | Legal Alcohol Limits



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Drinking and driving is a significant safety concern in South Africa, with alarmingly high statistics of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities recorded yearly. It is estimated that drunk driving costs the South African economy around R18 billion in damages annually.

These frightening statistics do not only influence those guilty of drunken driving. Sober motorists and pedestrians are also at risk of harm. Drinking and driving accidents can cause severe injuries and costs to innocent people who might not have access to medical insurance. With the number of impaired drivers and accidents on South African roads, car insurance is also becoming a necessity for all vehicle owners.

Keep reading to learn important information regarding drinking and driving and keeping your car, yourself, and others safe on the road.

How Does Alcohol Affect Driving?


Intoxication affects a person’s cognitive functions. Consuming large amounts of alcohol causes a variety of physical and mental impairments that can affect a person’s driving abilities. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Slower reaction speeds
  • Lower concentration levels
  • Decreased hand-eye coordination
  • Impaired or blurred vision
  • Poor judgment and lowering of inhibitions

These effects combined cause reckless driving that might cause damage, injury, or even death.

Drunk Driving & Insurance Claims

Another implication of drinking and driving that people often do not think about is the effect on insurance policies if found guilty. Most insurance companies do not pay out claims that stem from breaking the law.

If you are in an accident due to driving under the influence, your car insurance company is under no obligation to pay for the damages. Most insurance companies have restrictions in place, so it is important to make sure you understand the terminology and conditions set out in your policy.

In case of injuries sustained in a car accident, it is also advisable to ensure that your medical aid covers possible expenses.

What is the Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in South Africa?


The legal limitations and prohibitions related to drinking and driving are laid out in full in The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996.

Simply put, it stipulates that a person can not get behind the wheel if their blood alcohol level is above 0.05 grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. For a breathalyser test, the limit translates to a breath alcohol concentration of less than 0.24mg per 100ml of breaths.

One unit of alcohol is defined by law as 0.02 grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood or 12 grams of pure alcohol. Contrary to popular belief, one drink does not equal one unit of alcohol. Certain drinks have a higher alcohol content than others, which means that even one small drink can put you over the limit.

How Many Units of Alcohol is Over the Legal Limit in South Africa?


The number of units of alcohol that can be consumed while still staying within the legal limits differs from person to person. There are many variables that influence a person’s blood alcohol level, including gender, metabolism, weight, and the type of alcohol being consumed. It is, therefore, difficult to give an exact answer.

Roughly estimated, one unit of alcohol translates to approximately two-thirds of a can of beer, one small glass of wine (under 100ml), or one tot (10ml) of spirits.

A rough estimate of the number of units in different drinks is as follows:

  • One large can of beer (500ml) counts for two units of alcohol.
  • One large glass of red wine (250ml) is equivalent to roughly three units.
  • One tot of spirit and a mixer, such as a single brandy and Coke, equals one unit.
  • One flavoured alcoholic drink, such as Brutal Fruit or Red Square, amounts to two units.
  • Cocktails are usually a mix of different liquors, and one drink can equal between two and five units.
  • One shot or shooter of spirits is equal to ½ unit.

How Long After Drinking is it Safe to Drive?


The liver takes approximately one hour to process or metabolise one unit of alcohol. It is advisable to stick to the general rule of one drink per hour to avoid going over the limit.

It is also crucial to note that alcohol stays in one’s system for at least eight hours after consumption. No amount of coffee, energy drinks, or water can speed this up.

Therefore, the best way to avoid breaking the law is to limit yourself and keep track of how much you are drinking per hour. The inebriating effect of alcohol can also be slightly reduced by not consuming alcohol on an empty stomach.

What are the Charges for Drunk Driving?


The legal implications of being arrested and charged with drunken driving can be severe and long-lasting. The South African Police Service has a zero-tolerance approach to drunk driving and is working towards increasing the number of visible traffic officers and roadblocks.

First-time offenders can be charged with a minimum fine of R2000 and a six-month driving license suspension. For offenders with prior charges, a fine as high as R120 000 can be imposed, depending on the nature of previous convictions.

A guilty offender can also be given a prison sentence based on a judge’s discretion, ranging from six months to six years. If you are found guilty of drunken driving, the conviction will also be added to your criminal record for a period of ten years.

Final Thoughts on Drinking and Driving in South Africa

It goes without saying that staying sober is the best way to avoid being arrested for drunken driving. If you are planning on a night of festivities, it is best to ensure that you have a designated driver or make alternative transport arrangements. Taking the risk of driving, even after only one drink, is not worth putting yourself and others in danger.

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