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Why are we resorting to old unscientific methods of sobriety testing?

Posted by Angus MacArthur on

Current, progressive and scientific thinking about the indispensable need to use alcohol breathalysers for law-enforcement has come up with far better solutions than “standing on one leg” or “walking on a straight line” suggested by some leaders of law-enforcement in South Africa, as per the article titled “Breathalysers out, road routine in.” published in the Sunday Times on the 6th of December 2020 https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2020-12-06-breathalysers-out-roadside-routine-in/

In response to the challenge posed by Covid-19, mining, industry, commerce, and pro-active law-enforcement authorities have found it essential to continue the use of alcohol breathalyser tests together with the use of appropriate PPE to safeguard breathalyser operators while officials test drivers and employees.  Examination gloves, protective face masks and especially single-use recyclable wrapped paper straws are in widespread use, allowing sobriety tests to continue being conducted.

Alcohol consumption continues to be concerning in South Africa with lockdown revealing what we had always known about our toxic relationship with alcohol. As of 2018, almost 1 in 3 people in South Africa from age 15 upwards were recorded as alcohol drinkers, 59% of whom were heavy drinkers. (Ref 1.) During the alcohol sales ban in Level 5 lockdown, hospitals received remarkedly less alcohol-related trauma visits. This shift in the public burden, at least to health services is one of the reasons why some lobby groups made their calls for zero tolerance of alcohol consumption by drivers, louder.

Coming out of an alcohol ban meant that consumption potentially increased, and entering the festive season means that not only will consumption increase but so will people’s movement. The annual carnage on the road has the potential to be greater this year, given the high levels of stress and anxiety in people during 2020. Therefore, the importance of definitive alcohol screening is even more necessary, both on the roads and in workplaces. The idea of using old screening methods of testing is terrifying at best and will do little to encourage sober driving and working.

There are proven safe breath alcohol testing solutions to consider for screening and testing, especially on the roads. For instance, there are specific breathalyser screeners that have a magnetic mounting which enables officers and drivers to be completely separated during testing where the equipment can be magnetised to the side of a law-enforcement vehicle so that the equipment does not need to be physically held by an official. Mountable automatic entrance breathalysers automatically cycle and provide for repeated sequential tests with no human intervention whatsoever. The above coupled with wearing of examination gloves, protective face masks and wiping breathalysers with non-alcohol-based Steri-Wipes for when breathalysers need to be held by hand will ensure the readiness of breathalysers for the next person, especially at roadblocks where numerous breath tests must be conducted in a short space of time.

Some of the breathalysers originating from South Korea available in the South African market do not even require blowing to screen drivers for alcohol successfully. While pre-COVID-19, police officers would often put their head into a car’s window to “smell” for any potential alcohol consumption in the air, these advanced breathalysers can do the exact same job without asking drivers to blow into them. They can be simply placed within the vicinity of the driver’s mouth, the driver is requested to speak, the officer engages the passive mode button of the breathalyser and if there is any alcohol detected in the air exhaled by the driver while speaking, the breathalyser will detect the alcohol in exhaled air and raise an immediate alarm. The next step then will be to charge the driver and proceed to perform an Evidential Breath Analyser Test (EBAT) or to draw blood for analysis by an approved state blood-alcohol test laboratory.

It is vitally important for road safety authorities in South Africa to simply adopt the latest breath testing methodology & equipment available and thus help to ensure the safety of drivers on our roads.  A reversion to the days of old will never provide the public, or the workplace, with the protection that breath alcohol testing with new breathalyser technology provides.  Walking a line or standing on one leg simply does not enable an accurate determination of whether a driver is sober to operate a vehicle or not. Making use of antiquated sobriety testing procedures simply introduces elements of subjectivity that have long-been dispensed of.

If we are to curb carnage on the roads, prevent alcohol-related deaths and save lives, it is imperative that we employ Covid-safe use of alcohol breathalysers that provide scientific certainty.