A new drunk driving law which may be put in place before the end of the year will mean that even one sip of an alcoholic beverage will put you over the limit

The new law means there will no longer be any ‘grey’ areas when it comes to driving under the influence.

The amendment to the current law was proposed by South Africa’s Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula in 2019. The new draft law was published in April this year.

Currently, the law allows for those with a blood-alcohol concentration under 0,5g per 100ml and 0,24mg breath alcohol content per 1000ml. However, the new law sets the limit at 0%, meaning that even one sip of wine or beer will put you over the legal limit.

What does this mean for you and your insurance if you’re in an accident?

While the law is meant to curb the carnage on South African roads due to drunk driving, it could also see consumers being rejected by their insurance companies if they are found to be over the limit and involved in an accident.

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“If you are involved in an accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or if the percentage of alcohol in your blood exceeds the legal limit, or if you fail a breathalyser test, you will NOT be insured,” says Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women Insurance. “We apply these terms to each case while being cognisant of  individual merits of each case, and in accordance with the relevant Case Law as well as principles of fairness and equity.”

The zero-tolerance law removes any ‘grey areas’, says Louis Hay, Head of Propositions at Standard Bank Insurance. “This means that insurers will repudiate claims that previously may well have been entertained.”

“Clients need to understand that following a conviction, insurers may cancel their insurance policies and it may be difficult for them to even obtain vehicle insurance,” warns Hay.

Use your insurance benefits to get home safely

“The new proposed legislation will have serious implications for all South African drivers, as well as finance houses, where the vehicle is still financed through the bank. The insurer will be within its rights to reject an accident claim where the driver consumed any alcohol whatsoever, no matter how small the consumption is,” says Lebogang Gaoaketse, WesBank’s Head of Marketing and Communication.

“Most insurers have a ‘drive me home’ service incorporated into their insurance policies, should the customer require the service due to alcohol consumption. This benefit means that the client (insured) has no excuse for driving under the influence of alcohol under any circumstances.”

Gaoaketse advises clients to make use of these kinds of benefits to ensure their safety, and maintain a positive reputation with their insurer.

There may be a positive spin-off in the long term

The insurers all agree that if the new legislation is effective, and does help to decrease the number of accidents on the road caused by alcohol consumption, it could ultimately also lead to a decrease in insurance premiums in the long term. Less claims means a benefit for the consumer.

What if you’re caught?

Besides the insurance ramifications, drunk driving can result in jail time and a serious fine.

The law states that anyone found to be over the legal limit will be arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence of Liquor. Those found guilty could face a fine of up to R2 000, a prison sentence, or both depending on the circumstances.

“You may also lose your driver’s licence, or have it suspended. And, of course, you will have a criminal record,” says the South African Police Services website.