Last week, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) released their June 2019 statistics which revealed that driving and driving remains a major concern across the city. IOL reported that a total of 890 people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in June alone. Needless to say the best amount of liquor to consume is no liquor at all and South Africans need to rethink their relationship with alcohol.

Alcohol can have health benefits, with moderate consumers enjoying a somewhat better chance of surviving a heart attack. Moderate is, of course, a relative term, with a surprising number of us not knowing, and/or not keeping with the daily and weekly maximum recommended units. How much is enough? Probably less than we realise.[/intro]

Health professionals advise that women should not consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Men should not exceed 21 units per week. Ostensibly, a lot of people would consume their maximum advised intake in a single sitting. So the whiskey you pour for yourself at home or that which is poured for you while visiting friends is in all probability excessive, depending on how badly the pouring elbow ‘slipped’.

So back to the health benefits of moderate drinking: moderate drinkers have been found to be less likely to develop diabetes. They can also have robust bones, with beer especially associated with increased bone strength, reducing one’s susceptibility to osteoporosis (fragile bone disease) according to the research conducted by the National Nutrition and Food Research Institute and published in the International Journal of Food Properties in 2012. It is widely known that red wine taken in moderation is associated with heart health, with imbibers less likely to develop coronary heart disease or stroke.

While people who take alcohol will rejoice and even quote to nagging spouses or friends these health benefits, they may unsurprisingly, be slower to appreciate, let alone propagate, that the very best drink one can ever have is water! Albeit factors such as talking on the phone whilst driving, speeding, overloading, sleep deprivation and fatigue are contributors to the road death-toll, alcohol however seems to be a leading cause. Incredulously, alcohol is often closely related with religion, either by its absence such as in the total abstinence fundamentalists’ associations and certain puritanical communities, or by its indispensable presence, such as its integral place in religious ritual. For instance, within the Judeo-Christian tradition, wine is used as part of the communal life of prayer.

Needless to say, the health benefits of liquor consumption are instantly nullified by getting plastered and breaking one’s bones in the innumerable alcohol-related accidents that occur every night of the week, as manifest in casualty wards throughout the country. Any person drinking more than the prescribed units a week is virtually certain to jeopardise or compromise their physical and mental condition. Alcohol reduces driving ability. Alcohol leads to drink driving with its toll of injury and death, devastating so many lives and families. At other times alcohol undoubtedly becomes associated with the kind of things not glorified by the alcohol industry advertising and marketing such as violence, crime, road rage, unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancies, infidelity, and the disintegration of families to the detriment of spouses and children’s happiness.

Statistics released on the Arrive Alive website indicates that alcohol-impaired driving fatalities account for the greatest percentage of total road mortality rates. The statistics from the 2019 preliminary Road Safety Report shows that the main contributory factors to road fatalities are related to human behaviour, with male drivers accounting for 72% of fatalities, which is a 10% increase from 62% in 2018. Female drivers recorded 15% in road crashes, a decrease of 9% as compared to 24% in 2018. The law enforcement operations were also conducted on all the major routes with a focus on drunken driving, targeting especially the areas and events where alcohol is consumed. In his official Safety Report in May earlier this year, then minister of transport, Blade Nzimande reminded us that the poor and the working class are affected disproportionately by road crashes.

According to the 2019 Arrive Alive report, 807 drivers were arrested for drunken driving, comparatively, only 192 drivers were arrested in the incidents related to speeding. The Road Traffic Act has made it an offence to drive a vehicle on a public road while the person behind the wheel has a concentration of alcohol in the blood of 0,05g or more per 100ml of blood. The highest alcohol readings were reported in Gauteng where the main offender tested a reading of 2.64mg/ 1000ml, followed by Western Cape with the reading of 30mg/1000ml.

In an effort to combat drunk driving, the Department of Transport has pledged to implement measures that will focus on the reclassification of drunken driving to Schedule 5 of the Criminal Procedures Act, which will continue to receive high priority in the endeavour and quest for a mandatory minimum sentence for drunken driving, inconsiderate, reckless and negligent driving.

The transport department authorities have categorically stated that improving safety is not the responsibility of government alone. Road safety is everyone’s responsibility. The department has made an earnest plea to all South Africans to take responsibility when using our roads because one death is one too many.

The bottom line, however, is – and should be – do not drink and drive.

This research is sponsored by the National Nutrition and Food Research Institute and is related to a PhD thesis. The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from their research component, and they have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.