Tackling the challenges of drunk driving

NICRO, the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, has joined forces with the South African Breweries (SAB) to launch a unique alcohol and road offences initiative to tackle the challenges of drunk driving at a range of levels.

The alcohol and road offences initiative, to be piloted in and around Cape Town, has been designed to have a positive influence on reducing drunk driving and keeping South Africans safe on the road. This joint venture is also expected to dramatically reduce the workload and lessen the burden on the formal criminal justice system.

This is the first time that NICRO has joined forces with the corporate sector to tackle drunken driving by seeking ways to create awareness and educate people on the dangers of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol.

NICRO believes that prison is not the best option for DUI offenders, and that in some cases, sending an offender to prison simply exacerbates the problem. The SAB funded alcohol and road offences initiative allows suitable DUI offenders who have been found guilty, and sentenced, to avoid going to prison. Instead of going to prison, they participate in this special educational, therapeutic programme and carry out their sentences in the community. Although the consequences of the drunken driving offence will not involve going to prison, such offenders will have a criminal record.

In addition to incorporating a powerful educational and awareness component, this needs-driven intervention also manages risks and addresses the behaviours that caused the drunk driving offence in the first place.

“If we are to fight DUI in a meaningful way, we cannot simply punish those driving under the influence without addressing faulty thinking patterns and the behaviours which result because of this,” said NICRO’s CEO, Soraya Solomon. “Not only do offenders avoid going to trial, possible incarceration and a criminal record; they are afforded a remarkable opportunity to change cognitive distortions (faulty thinking) and unacceptable behaviour, repair the damage they have caused and acquire fundamental life skills to avoid further problems with alcohol,” Ms Solomon continued.

SAB’s executive director of Corporate Affairs and Transformation, Dr Vincent Maphai, has confirmed the beer brewer’s firm commitment to partnering with like-minded people in the public and private sector, as the most effective way of fighting alcohol abuse harm. Dr Maphai believes that there are valuable lessons to be learnt from collective efforts which have seen significant progress being made in reducing the high levels of HIV infection in South Africa.

“It was only after society in its entirety rallied together to address this social disaster that real progress started being made. The same principle should apply to our fight against the scourge of alcohol abuse. Government, communities, business and the NGO community need to pool their resources. There is no social problem which was ever resolved by one sector of society on its own,” said Dr Maphai.

This multi-faceted intervention, which highlights the legal implications of driving under the influence and how serious drunk driving charges are, also has the support of the National Prosecuting Authority. The programme’s ability to clearly demonstrate how alcohol abuse affects one’s life and negatively influences decisions, and the extent to which it offers participants opportunities to avoid future problems with alcohol and conflict with the law, is very encouraging.

“Participation in this alcohol and road offences initiative allows the offender to discover the risks and consequences of alcohol abuse, uncover faulty thinking patterns and therefore change these cognitive distortions and subsequent behaviours,” NICRO Deputy CEO and Research and Development Director, Celia Dawson commented. “The risk factors associated with driving under the influence are also effectively managed and reduced, and where possible, eliminated. Favourable attitudes, fresh insights and new crucial life-skills equip the offender to steer clear of further problems with alcohol abuse and run-ins with the law,” she concluded.

Alcohol, the most commonly abused substance in South Africa, is closely associated with risky sexual behaviour and road accidents. Alcohol abuse also impacts negatively on the high levels of crime and violence in the country. Drunk driving, in particular, is one of the greatest threats to road safety in our country, with research indicating that at least 50% of people who die on the roads have a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit.

NICRO and SAB are confident that this joint venture will soon make a noteworthy difference to the challenges of drunk driving and do much to promote road safety in South Africa. NICRO is eager to partner with the public and private sector to expand this initiative to other parts of the country, and would like to encourage other corporate concerns to follow SAB’s lead by providing financial support for this unique initiative.

SA – the Good News