Drunk drivers beware: you could spend seven days in jail before getting bail
On the eve of the festive season, the Road Traffic Management Corp (RTMC) is pushing for tougher action against those arrested for drunk driving - including making them spend at least seven days behind bars before they can be considered for bail.
In a proposal to the department of justice, the RTMC asks that driving under the influence (DUI), speeding and reckless or negligent driving be reclassified in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.
The RTMC wants the department to change DUI from a schedule 2 to a schedule 5 offence, which would mean that motorists arrested for it would receive harsher treatment from the courts.
The proposal recommends that DUI suspects be treated in the same way as those accused of serious crimes such as rape, murder, theft and fraud.
At present, many of those arrested for DUI can be granted bail by the police within hours of being taken into custody.
Makhosini Msibi, CEO of the RTMC, said the law needed to be tightened to fight the scourge of DUI, which he said was the leading cause of road accidents and fatalities, especially during the holiday season.
"We have engaged the department of justice and continue to do so with a view to redefine the traffic offences," he said.
"Currently, if we arrest you for drunk driving you can be granted bail in terms of section 59 of the Criminal Procedure Act, and the senior person at the police station can offer bail.
"But if we then escalate it to schedule 5 or schedule 6, it should be a formal bail application [in court].
The idea that you're going to curb traffic offences and solve the problem by making it harder to get bail is preposterousProfessor James Grant of the School of Law at Wits University
"Above all, it must not be automatic, you must spend seven days before you can bring the application for bail," Msibi said.
Justice minister Michael Masutha's spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said the RTMC proposal had been on the table for some time and that discussions had started to move it forward.
"That proposal dates back to when Dipuo Peters was minister ... Recently there was a meeting to revive the discussion about this proposal and take it forward - that is how far it is at this stage," said Ratshitanga.
Professor James Grant of the School of Law at Wits University said an umbrella approach would be futile, and that a better way to crack down on traffic offences would be to have more traffic officers on the roads and to strictly enforce the existing laws.
"The idea that you're going to curb traffic offences and solve the problem by making it harder to get bail is preposterous," he said.
It was also absurd to equate speeding with murder and rape, Grant said.
Msibi said the RTMC was seeking tougher action in part because of the rising financial costs of road accidents for the government.
Last year, 14,750 recorded road accidents cost R172bn - for medical treatment and insurance claims - a R9bn rise from 2016.