Drunk Driving in South Africa

Drunk Driving

Being arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, or any other illegal substance, has become a very common problem in our society, especially since the SAPS and Metro have clamped down on weekend drinking and often set up routine road blocks where tens if not hundreds of drivers are arrested at a time.

Having a criminal record for drunk driving can affect one’s job opportunities, travelling prospects as well as one’s personal life and self-confidence. At SDF Attorneys, we specialise in securing our drunken driving clients the most favourable result possible, which for most first time offenders, means that the drunken driving charge will not result in a conviction and will therefore never appear on our clients’ criminal records.

In more serious cases or where the client is a repeat offender, SDF Attorneys work together with our expert criminal counsel to ensure that the best possible sentence is imposed, whether that be community service, a fine or a period of imprisonment (which is hardly ever the case).

Lately there has been an incredibly long delay between the date of arrest and the date of first appearance, some delays even being more than a year in length. In these situations, and where the client cannot afford to have the charge “hanging over their heads” for such a long period of time, SDF Attorneys assist the client by making written representations to the Director of Public Prosecutions to request that the charge be withdrawn pending the outcome of the blood results. This ensures that the charge will not affect any travelling that the client is required to do for business purposes in the interim, for example.

Drunk driving – What to expect if you are caught

Nowadays it is inevitable that every South African will be stopped in a roadblock at some point in the future. While the ideal situation would obviously be to be completely sober when this happens to you, this is unfortunately not always the case and most South Africans have no idea what to expect if they are pulled over whilst intoxicated. It is important to know your rights in such a situation but also to know the procedure and what to expect from the moment that you are pulled over to the moment that you are convicted or the charge is withdrawn.

Once you are pulled over by a SAPS or Metro Officer, the process will be more or less as follows:

1.    The Officer will ask you if you have been drinking. Our advice would be to always be honest here, as we have had many clients who say that they have not been drinking and are then breathalysed anyway. It will then only make your situation worse if the Officers realise that you lied to them.

2.    If the Officer chooses to breathalyse you, you will be taken from your vehicle to a location nearby where all of the individuals being pulled over and tested will all be waiting to be breathalysed. If there are other people travelling with you in your vehicle, they will be asked to stay in the vehicle.

3.    Another Officer will then attend to the breathalyser test. You will be asked to blow as hard as you can into the plastic mouth piece of the breathalyser. The machine will then show a reading and the Officer will record the reading.

4.    If your result is above the legal limit of 0.05g/dl (which is normally the equivalent of two beers consumed in relatively quick succession), you will be informed of this and you will be placed in the transportation van to be taken for blood withdrawals. Although the breathalyser test is no longer accepted in court, it is still used as a quick and easy way of determining whether a driver has been drinking alcohol. A blood test must be performed however to confirm this suspicion as the breathalyser results alone will not be sufficient for a conviction.

5.    Your vehicle will either be driven to the relevant police station by one of the other passengers or a fellow officer or will be left at the scene to be collected at a later stage. Ensure that your vehicle will be looked after in your absence, as you would not want to have a stolen or misplaced vehicle to worry about too.

6. You will then be taken (along with the other drunk drivers) to a clinic, hospital or a mobile blood drawing unit, where your blood will be taken. A district surgeon, registered nurse of prison medical officer will take your blood and must use a fresh needle and sterilised supplies. A person arrested on suspicion of drunk driving (with supporting breathalyser results) may not unreasonably refuse to have blood taken. Naturally, if there is a dirty needle being used or the person drawing the blood is not qualified, you may refuse until the situation has been remedied, however you must try to gather evidence to support your refusal in court. You can however request that your medical practitioner be present for the withdrawal if you feel that this is necessary.

7.    Once your blood is taken, you will be taken back to the relevant Police Station, where you will be “processed” (all necessary paperwork completed by the arresting officer, including the Notice of Rights and the Bail Receipt) and you will have to pay the bail amount determined by the relevant officer (usually R1 000.00 at the moment). There are instances where a driver is retained in a holding cell for a number of hours while the officers process all of the drivers and complete the necessary paperwork for each one. This is normal however you should be kept with other people of your own gender only during this time.

8.    Once you have been processed, your valuables will be returned to you and you will be allowed to leave the Police Station. You should be given two documents – a Notice of Rights as well as a Bail Receipt or Warning to Appear. Make sure that all details are correct and legible (especially your appearance date and case number) before leaving the station.

You will have to appear in the specified Magistrates’ Court on the date and at the time allocated on your paperwork. If you do not appear you will forfeit your bail amount and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
If your blood results are not yet ready by the time of your first appearance, the matter will be postponed pending the outcome of the blood results. This happens quite often nowadays as there is a large backlog at the laboratory processing the blood samples.
Another thing to bear in mind, is that the blood must be taken within two hours of you being pulled over for the blood sample and the results thereof to be deemed valid and admissible in court, therefore keep an eye on the time from the minute that you are pulled over as this could be of vital importance to your case.
The safest option is always to avoid drinking and driving at all, however if you do find yourself facing a drunk driving charge, contact us for professional and swift assistance. Not all charges will end in convictions, if the correct approach is taken and if experienced legal representation is sought.