Business Opportunities from South Africa’s Zero-limit Drunk Driving Legislation

The government is about to take the drastic step of cutting the legal blood alcohol limit while driving from 0.05% to 0%. This in theory will make it illegal to drive even if you have even just taken a few sips of alcohol. This may or may not have a profound effect on society but business is all about a market need and solving a problem and being caught driving “drunk” is a big problem. Last time I spoke about satisfying demand, what demands will this legislation create assuming it’s passed? I will focus mainly on the business aspect assuming it is passed, successfully implemented and has the desired effect on people (the last two is unlikely knowing how incompetent the ANC is but we can discuss it nonetheless). I’m not going to look much at the political, legal, societal impact. There are people better qualified to discuss that.

The current law
South Africa currently has a law that limits the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) while driving to 0.05% this is the most common limit around the world. South Africa is about to adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy of 0% and as such, it will be illegal to have any alcohol in the blood while driving (bear in mind that alcohol can show up in blood up to 12 hours later). The goal of this law, I assume is to change people’s behaviour and to remove the ambiguity that often gets drunk drivers off where they can argue they were 0.049% and not 0.051% etc.

The legal alcohol limit is reduced to 0% Now what?

Knowing how this government operates after the law is passed, there is going to be a lot of roadblocks with Fikile Mbalula and Bheki Cele making appearances while being followed by cameramen.

There is going to be a lot of stories in the media as the government publishes the number of people arrested.

And this is to scare people into compliance.

Knowing SAPS, you going to have police officers parking close to pubs and other places where alcohol is served to trap patrons emerging, in order to solicit a bribe or try to extort sexual favours to “make it go away”. And these stories will go around.

And there will be media stories of famous people caught drinking and driving.

As this reality sinks in we might see a change in the behaviour in some, creating business opportunities. It is no fun to have to go to court all the time, and your case gets postponed, and even end up with a criminal record if you pay an admission of guilt fine or get convicted. Also remember now insurance companies will also try to avoid paying out because they use “legal limit” as a clause. When the legal limit is 0% they can refuse to pay out even if it was the other person’s fault and you had little alcohol – too little to affect your driving.

Who will make the first money?
The first money will be made by lawyers, who will no doubt argue their clients drank cough syrup or ate yeast causing the elevated BAC reading but we are not lawyers.

The next money will be made by taxi operators, as demand will no doubt increase especially the taxi app services and their drivers Uber, Bolt. Uber is based in the US, Bolt in Estonia and like Takealot and Checkers their delivery network is almost exclusively foreign so there won’t be much meat on the bone for normal South Africans there either.

We will look at small business opportunities for South Africans

Designated Drunk Driver Service
Me, you, we know life, many times we don’t set out to drink, we find ourselves somewhere and we are offered a drink, what happens now after we are out with our vehicle and don’t want to drive? There were two early players (around 15 years ago) in South Africa’s designated driver service. Toot-n-Scoot and another one, I can’t remember (I think Good Fellas?),  Toot-n-Scoot pioneered a model where someone arrives at your car with a scooter, fold’s up the scooter in your boot and drives you home in your own car. The other company was more aimed at executives and corporates, you pay a monthly fee and you can call upon them x times a month to come to take you home. I can’t remember how they work, and I don’t like the scooter idea because it is not viable everywhere. There are some places you can’t be driving with that type of scooters (that can fold up in a boot). A designated drunk driver service should be two guys working together, and one drive you home in your own car while the other follows. A service which can be implemented in any town. Now, this is a business to consumer business. But there might be a B2B business here. Working with pubs and nightclubs.

Imagine, the near future, most people get vaccinated, things go back to somewhat normal, nightclubs reopen and then people get scared to go out or go out less because not only must they pay a premium for drinks at a club (and even an entry fee) but they are risking prosecution. It might be in the best interest of clubs to also work with designated driver operators. I’m not sure how unlikely this is but club owners are in for a nightmare as people trickle back at much lower levels than before, they might just be desperate enough to try anything.

This business can also be operated as a personal driver service, where you drive patrons around, or just a short journey driving people home from the pub.

From a Korean study:
“Designated driver service in Korea offers a convenient and affordable solution for drunk drivers to reach their destinations with their own vehicles. We investigate the influence of this service availability on drunk driving behaviors, using Korean panel data from 1998 to 2011. We find that an increase in designated driver firms significantly reduces both alcohol-involved and total traffic fatality rates, while the effects of well-known deterrence policies are weak. This result is further supported by a counterfactual analysis which compares the effect of the service on traffic fatality rates in daytime to those in nighttime when the rate of the service use is substantially higher.”

Will this become commonplace in SA?

Accommodation close to pubs
Another industry that might boom is the short term accommodation close to popular night life venues. How many people is going to be using that service that traditionally would not have used it before? I don’t know, when I’m in my hometown I personally prefer to sleep in my own bed. But maybe there will be an increase and you can even offer a “shuttle” service to and from the clubs.

Party bus with shuttle service
You collect people in a taxi (more fuel-efficient than using the bus for this), take them to the party bus, drive around and let them drink, people then get out of the bus into the taxi which drops them off at home. If this business can get multiple people from the same neighbourhood it will be better or have one collection point (but that’s a bit dangerous as people would need to get home from there, likely intoxicated).

Neighbourhood pubs (operating)
One industry that will almost certainly see an increase in patrons is neighbourhood pubs within walking distance of people’s homes, no matter how uncool they are. Not necessarily because people are going to walk there but it is far less likely to be targeted by police within a residential neighbourhood (albeit not impossible). Nonetheless, I have a feeling these type of establishments will get an uptick in business. We’ve seen pubs where houses are converted into pubs in the middle of residential neighbourhoods, these places get liquor licences much to the chagrin of some of the community. But they get it because some government departments place economics above these objections to the social ills it causes (we have a government in which one hand does not know what the other is doing). That being said, this business is not for everyone, it can get problematic, even dangerous at times.

Those are the obvious, there might be less obvious, maybe developing a THC CBD infused drink with other herbs that mimic the effect of alcohol but does not show up on breathalysers because it is not alcohol. Our dagga laws are still very new, there is no framework so that might be a loophole. Note: I’m not saying that people should drive while impaired (or even very tired). I’m just spitballing.

I can think of others, but I am not sure of the legality, but I think that people just sitting in their own homes drinking, instead of going out is going to increase as well, some (even after vaccinated) might still be spooked by COVID.

Will things really change and how much
It is really hard to say because South Africa’s current law is not even properly enforced, we have drunk drivers knock over pedestrians and walk free, Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye did 4 years for killing four children and causing brain damage in another two and he is back to his old life. While things like forgiveness, restorative justice and second chances are nice sentiments there is a reason there is a justice system to weigh up the interest of the victims and their families, obviously, that was not done. There was ample opportunity in the past to send a message to people that drunk driving is bad and establish deterrence. This was not done.

Those who say “we brought this upon ourselves”, I ask who is we? Who’s fault is it that we have come to this point?  When in the past the interest of the victims was not considered now suddenly everybody is to blame. We saw this regularly during lockdown “levels” and the flip-flopping around alcohol. I’m not responsible for what another person does, find the perpetrators and prosecute them.

I’m sympathetic to the victims and the families of drunk drivers and I don’t believe that there are third forces, for example, the tobacco lobby behind this. But I think it once again ventilates the problem of South Africa’s identity politics that have kept ministers around with no real skill other than balancing on the gravy train, no one illustrates this more than the brainchild of this law, the ineffectual Fikile Mbalula who has meandered from minister of sport and recreation to minister of police to minister of transport. The correct path should have been to properly prosecute people caught drunk and without valid drivers licences by sending evidence to court on time and not just someone having a beer or cider after a stressful day at work.

While some NGO’s have been pushing for this for a long time, this is a big move – if its implemented.