Drunk driving is one of the biggest threats to road safety in South Africa. The National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) states two separate offences related to the use of alcohol.

Firstly, it is an offence to drive a vehicle on a public road (that is, occupy the driver’s seat) if you are under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or any form of a drug having a narcotic effect. This can also be any form of pain medication that affects your abilities to function). Secondly, it is an offence to drive a vehicle when the concentration of alcohol in the blood is 0,05g or more per 100ml of blood.

In other words, consuming only two drinks within an hour will already indicate that you are over the legal limit.

Take a look at this breakdown of alcohol units* per drink type:

*1 unit is equal to 0.02g blood alcohol

  • 1 x 75ml glass of wine = 1 unit
  • 1 x 250ml glass of wine = 3.3 units
  • 1 x shot/shooter = ½ unit (approx.)
  • 1 x spirit cooler = 1.25 units (approx.)
  • 1 x beer = 1.5 units (or more)
  • 1 x cider = 2 units
  • 1 x 25 ml tot of spirits = 1 unit
  • 1 x cocktail = 2-4 units

If you are, by law, found to be incapable of driving a vehicle, you are identified as a danger to other drivers on the road and will be liable to be prosecuted by relevant authorities.

If found guilty for these offenses, the penalty may be:

  • A maximum fine of R120,000 for driving under the influence (DUI);
  • A minimum of R180,000 for culpable homicide under certain circumstances;
  • Suspension or cancellation of your driver’s license or learner’s permit (under Section 35 NRTA);
  • Disqualification from obtaining a driver’s license if you are an unlicensed driver


Driving under the influence is governed by the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), Act 93 of 1996 as amended.

Section 65 refers to driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs having a narcotic effect. It also states about the excessive amount of alcohol present in a driver’s blood or breath.


Dealing with drunk driving and arrest

After being pulled over by police officers, get your license ready and phone a friend or relative to disclose your location and the circumstances you are under. Also, make sure you get legal representation to assist you.

  1. Being pulled over and suspected of driving under the influence
  • Do not be rude or act defensive towards the police officer(s);
  • Obey the officers’ commands and do as they ask.

Should the officers hint for a bribe or a pay-off, know that this is illegal. Take down their names and credentials. If possible, take a photo with your cellphone and “Whatsapp” the image to anyone else for record keeping

Be prepared to take a breathalyser test. If the testing device is not in working condition, you may be escorted to the nearest hospital or medical practice for blood tests. If you test positive with the breathalyser for being over the legal limit, you will be taken into custody and then sent for the blood tests.

  1. Detainment

You will then be taken to the nearest police station, where you will be detained in the holding cells for at least 4 hours to sober up. The officers will search you for weapons, but you are allowed to keep personal belongings (such as your phone and wallet) with you whilst in detainment.

You can be detained for up to 48 hours. On weekends, this period can be longer, as the chances of you appearing in court are slim – you will have to wait until the upcoming Monday. Being detained over the weekend can therefore take longer before your arrest is processed and you may be released.

A docket will be opened and you will be allocated to an investigating officer who will follow up on your blood test results.

  1. Bail

The bail for these offences is a minimum of R500, and it can be granted in exceptional circumstances by the police officer and prosecutor themselves (if not yet granted in court.) You will still have to appear in court on the date provided by the authorities.

  1. You car will not be impounded

If you have been arrested for drunk driving, your car will be taken to the police station. Your keys will be withheld from you and only returned once your arrest has been processed and bail has been paid. Our advice to you is to phone a friend or a family member to collect your car.

In the event that you and/or the car was involved in an accident, your vehicle will be impounded. This means that you will have to go to the given traffic department where the car has been impounded and pay the impound fees to have your car released (much like bail).

In conclusion, please do not drink and drive – especially when alternative arrangements can be made. In most of the cities across South Africa, trustworthy services such as Uber (https://www.uber.com/cities/johannesburg) can assist you and take you home safely. Without any hassle, without any risk. You can also phone the nearest police station and ask that they escort you home. Or simply, call a friend.

Do not make a decision you may regret, and do not let another person who is under the influence step in behind the wheel. It is much better to be wise and not try to be smart.

Blood Tests:

No person detained for an alleged contravention may:

  • Smoke during his or detention if the blood specimen has not been taken yet;
  • Refuse that a specimen of blood, or a specimen of breath, be taken.

Practical use of Section 37 of the Criminal Law and Procedure Act:

This section makes provision for the sampling of blood without the consent of the alleged perpetrator. A law enforcement officer orders the doctor or nurse to collect the necessary samples (whether it is blood, or otherwise), and they may use the necessary restraint of force to obtain the desired specimen(s).

Important points to keep in mind:

  • The necessary documentation must be completed by the police officers;
  • You must be handled with dignity and respect;
  • The environment must be clean and the medical equipment sterilised;
  • Only a medical practitioner may take the specimens;
  • No person shall refuse that a specimen of blood, or a specimen of breath, or any form of specimen be taken;
  • The sample will be securely stored and transported/escorted by the police to a laboratory.

Written by: Ilze Koch