For some, one of the more contentious regulations during lockdown has been the ban on alcohol sales. Following the extension of the lockdown, many South Africans were hoping that this ban would be relaxed but were disappointed on 16 April when this was firmly denied.
The managing director of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, says one area where the ban on alcohol can have a drastic impact is in the cost of alcohol-related crashes on the GDP. “Research from the government and public health sector says that the annual tangible and intangible cost to the country of alcohol-related harm is between 10 and 12% of the country’s GDP.
“What percentage of this can be specifically attributed to car crashes, is not stated. What is interesting to note is that in the Easter road crash and fatality statistics, only eleven people were arrested for drunk driving, despite a higher police presence, compared to last year’s 800 arrests. It is clear that changing drinking behaviour can considerably impact the high crash rates in the country.”
The question, however, is what to do next? “While the ban on alcohol sales is very enlightening, it will not and cannot stay banned forever. Instead, we can use the data the lockdown gives us to illustrate just how detrimental drinking and driving can be. The true implications of alcohol consumption and driving compared to a period with very limited drinking and driving, cannot be denied,” says Herbert.
Some examples of how the ban on alcohol has had positive effects:
- Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town has reduced the caseload at their trauma centre by two thirds now that there are less drinking and driving accidents.
- After the first week of lockdown, doctors in Johannesburg reported little to no car crashes involving alcohol.
- An alcohol and drug abuse researcher at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Professor Charles Parry, developed a model showing a 25% reduction in trauma cases related to drinking (including injury from crimes as well as car accidents).
- A public healthcare doctor says the situation Italian doctors faced where they decided who to save and who would die is a scenario faced in South African public healthcare every day and he attributed alcohol consumption in violence and car accidents as the main reason for this.
The reduction in trauma cases across the country is propelling healthcare workers, politicians, researchers and more to push to keep the ban in place while we battle COVID-19 and for more drastic regulation after that. “The difficulty, however, is that someone who gets behind the wheel with a BAC level of 0,05mg/100ml is just as likely to disobey a zero-alcohol limit.
“This is why gathering data and evidence of the impact that drinking and driving has on the country during a time when it was drastically reduced is so important. For those who still do not understand the danger of their actions, maybe a look at the stark difference between a time of drinking and time of less drinking could motivate even a small portion of them to change their ways. The decision needs to start with them.”
If you plan on celebrating the end of lockdown by drinking, ensure it is not with driving as well. “Consider the facts we have shared with introspection. If you may have been one of the people that would get behind the wheel after drinking, it is time to change. There are many ways to still enjoy yourself without risking your life, the lives of others and putting a drain on the economy,” says Herbert.
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