Tips for safe festive season travel
Alcohol consumption is the number one public health and safety issue in most African countries.
It plays a role in most personal injuries, from murders, rapes, assaults and suicides to all manner of accidents, including fires and drowning.
It also causes all manner of diseases, directly and indirectly, and exacerbates others. It delays recovery from many types of conditions, including injuries which may have been related to alcohol use in the first place.
When it comes to hurting human beings, alcohol plays the starring role, and our love affair with it is one of several factors holding our population in the thrall of a vicious circle of social harms, not least of which are poverty and ignorance.
on the roads, the harmful effects of alcohol consumption are magnified several times: people who have consumed alcohol are far more efficient killers behind the wheel of vehicles which can travel nearly 300kph, with weights measured in tons, than when wielding a kitchen knife in a drunken squabble.
other human beings are not the only victims: traffic lights, road-signs, power boxes and road barriers are routinely destroyed, at a cost of millions to tax- and ratepayers, wasting money better spent on service delivery. Damage to private property ranges from suburban walls and take-away ki- osks knocked down, to shacks completely destroyed.
Outside the vehicle, drunken pedestrians are also a major hazard, albeit mainly to themselves, and the prevalence of pedestrian fatalities peaks over weekends, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights and in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The authorities have an important role to play in lessening this harm, through the detection and prosecution of people who get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.
Random traffic stops accompanied by breath-testing, in particular, have been cru- cial in countries which have had success in tackling the issue.
The key to really addressing the issue, however, is the stigmatisation of the practice. In the United Kingdom, it is not socially acceptable to drink and drive, even among young men, who are the group most prone to the behaviour.
So, while the UK has one of the highest blood alcohol levels in the world (0.08 compared to 0.05 in South Africa and indeed lesotho), it has the lowest road deaths per capita (2.75 per 100,000 compared to 34 in SA).
Stigmatisation can be influenced by the authorities, through imposition of stiff penalties on offenders (particularly those who kill and seriously injure others) and through education campaigns which make use of powerful and uncompromising messages.
The UK, for example, has mandatory sentencing guides for drivers convicted of killing or seriously injuring other people while under the influence, which include jail time.
Also in the UK, road safety authorities have made use of hard-hitting realistic advertising that portrays the realities of the situation since the 1960’s.
South Africa still has some way to go. We don’t have a consistent system for dealing with offenders that sends out a clear and unambiguous message.
— Various sources
Alcohol abuse is among the major causes of road accidents in every festive season.