Veroshnie Mahabeer, 34; Mitchell Mahabeer, 43 and their children were among a family of eight, who were killed in a head-on collision with an alleged drunk driver in January last year. The case is still dragging on in the courts.
The Mahabeer’s children, from, left, Leah, 6; Isabella, 11; Hannah, 7; and Titus, 3; were among their family of eight, who were killed in a head-on collision with an alleged drunk driver in January last year. The case is still dragging on in the courts.
The Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Test (ebat) machine.
ONE year and seven months. That is how long a Pietermaritzburg family have been waiting for justice, after an alleged drunk driver caused an accident that led to the death of eight of their loved ones.
“We attended the first court case in Port Shepstone last January. Since then, it kept being adjourned and moved to different courts. Part of the delay has been in waiting for toxicology reports and evidence” said McKyle Thaver, a relative of the family.
“Our family was already devastated when we lost our loved ones and now we have to keep going back and forth from Pietermaritzburg to the different courts. We have no closure. We have no sense of justice.”
The family – Lorraine Rampersadh, 57, her daughter, Veroshnie Mahabeer, 34; son-in-law, Mitchell Mahabeer, 43; their children, Isabella, 11; Hannah, 7; Leah, 6; and Titus, 3; and their uncle, Jesse Mahabeer, 22 – died in a head-on collision after an alleged drunken driver ploughed into their VW Golf on the N2, near Umzumbe.
The family, from Northdale, Pietermaritzburg, were returning home after celebrating Lorraine’s birthday on the South Coast.
In a bid to get some sort of closure and support, Thaver started an online petition, Get Justice Against Drunken Drivers, but that, too, fell flat.
“My cousin, who is an attorney, advised that the petition would not make a difference in a court of law. It may show that there is concern over the issue, but evidence is what is needed in court.”
Hope on the horizon:
But there may be hope on the horizon for drunken driving cases in the future. A pilot project for Alcohol Evidence Centres (AEC) – underway in Pietermaritzburg – is pegged as the new hope for curbing drinking and driving offences and related deaths on South Africa’s roads.
The joint partnership between the KwaZulu-Natal Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) and South African Breweries (SAB) has a pilot centre that has been operational since March.
It is already yielding results, with statistics showing an increased number of drunken driving arrests and prosecutions within the pilot project’s test area.
Pamela Narayadu Nkuna, SAB’s Smart Drinking and Corporate Social Responsibility manager in Africa, explained the concept:
- At a roadblock, motorists are screened with a hand-held breathalyser.
- If the officer at the scene suspects they are above the legal limit or if the screening device indicates such, the driver is then taken to an Alcohol Evidence Centre.
- Here, within the legal time frame of two hours, the motorist has to blow into the Evidentiary Breath Alcohol Test (EBAT machine), which immediately prints out alcohol level results and the motorist’s personal details. This is evidence that is admissible in court.
- In KZN, if you are over the limit, the officer will take you to the police station to be arrested.
“Previously, the officer would have to take the offender to a registered nurse at a local police station, hospital or mobile centre on the road to draw blood.With blood tests it takes “about three to five years to get a successful prosecution for driving under the influence”, explained Narayadu Nkuna.
The EBAT machine effectively cuts down on the process of having to draw blood and wait for laboratory results, which in the past has proven to contribute to delays in prosecution for drunken driving offences.
The proof is in the pudding:
Since the AEC pilot project relaunched in March, SAB and RTI officials have been working closely with the Directorate of Public Prosecutions to ensure it is fully compliant and evidence from the centre can be used in court.
The pilot project’s test area has seen the following results:
- 446 arrests for drunken driving since March 1.
- More than 372 of those were the result of evidence retrieved from the EBAT machine.
- 70 cases were successfully prosecuted in court, using evidence from the centre.
- Just four months since the pilot project was set up, statistics in the test area show that fatalities caused by drunken driving are down and successful prosecutions are up.
Peter Thembane, SAB Corporate Affairs manager for the East Coast region, explained that the idea was to finalise the pilot project before rolling out similar centres.
“When you invest in a project, you have to ring-fence an area and stay in this vicinity – in this case, the Pietermaritzburg jurisdiction – these are the comparative stats, which show that so far the AEC system is working, and we will learn more from it.”
Narayadu Nkuna said: “By the end of the year, we aim to roll out pilot projects – like the one in Pietermaritzburg – in Durban, Johannesburg, Soweto and Limpopo.
“In total, we have identified 17 centres across the country.
“This means we have identified buildings for the centres, but we are still working towards fully equipping them and getting them upgraded and legally compliant,” said Narayadu Nkuna.
Thembane added: “In the longer term we hope to have mobile AECs that local law enforcement can dispatch to specific areas during operations.
“The intention of the AECs – and eventually the mobile AECs – would be to fast-track the process of compliance when it comes drinking and driving, in a manner that is legally compliant.”
The SAB’s partnership with the government on these evidence centres stems from their commitment to the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals in 2015, when they came up with “Smart Drinking Goals” to be achieved.
These goals involve a number of programmes and projects aimed at tackling areas like road safety campaigns, underage drinking, and community education.
It takes three to tango:
Victor Chetty, director of the KZN RTI, said one of the priorities of the government in terms of transport was to heighten the law around road safety and driving under the influence of alcohol, and focus on AECs and law enforcement visibility on the roads.
But he emphasised the importance of partnerships at corporate and grass-roots levels.
“We believe in partnerships like these with SAB. This project in Pietermaritzburg is the first in South Africa and we will use this as a blueprint for other projects in the country. Road safety is our collective responsibility – from the road user, the pedestrian or the driver to businesses, society
“I’ve been in the enforcement faculty for 28 years.
“I’ve worked on the roads, I’ve dealt with motorists and, when it comes to drinking and driving, my experience says members of the public will always try to take chances.
“The sad part is, every weekend at this centre alone (Pietermaritzburg), we are picking up 28 to 30 drunk drivers at all hours, 8am, 11am, and throughout the day.
“What does that say about the society in which we live?
“SAB has demonstrated its commitment to safer roads through the AEC programme. As the government, we want to partner with and hear about such strategies because for us, the fundamental thing is that we want safe roads. But at the same time, we need compliant citizenry,” said Chetty.
“I hope to enhance and produce mobile EBAT centres that meet the requirements of the guidelines of prosecutions, so that my officers can travel anywhere.
“The ideal is for us to (operate) 24 hours (a day) and that is the direction I’d like to see us go in.”