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mobile labs to speed up prosecution of drunk drivers

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With the festive season approaching, statistics show that thousands of South Africans are likely to have their lives cut short on the country’s roads, as a result of drunk driving. During the same period last year, the South Africans against Drunk Driving noted a total of 1376 road casualties, most of which were attributed to drinking and driving. Last year alone, 3089 motorists were arrested in Cape Town as a result of driving under the influence.

Whilst prosecution of drunken drivers is viewed as of paramount importance, the country has seen a high number of cases kicked out of court due to a time delay between the drawing of a suspect’s blood and the analysis thereof. A backlog at state laboratories has reached a point where courts are simply unable to proceed with cases.

In a bid to tackle this delay, the City of Cape Town has sought to collaborate with a local forensic scientist on a new venture, which could potentially speed up the prosecution of drunken drivers. The initiative, if agreed upon, will see the establishment of mobile forensic test labs. This could greatly shorten the period in which blood samples are taken and subsequently tested.

“The idea behind this is to have a mobile lab which can have the instrumentation needed to do the analyses, and that the people will be breathalyzed as a screening test. If they fail the breathalyzer, blood will be taken, analyzed, and the results will be available within two hours,” said Dr. David Klatzow, the forensic scientist behind the initiative.

He was hopeful that this would speed up the time in which people were arrested, and then prosecuted. Those found guilty would be able to either pay an ‘admission of guilt’ fine, or challenge the results be applying for a court date.

Another concern surrounding the current state labs is that once blood sample are eventually addressed, the results are often found to be substandard. This allowed them to be easily challenged by an attorney in a court of law. Klatzow said should the initiative get off the ground, he would conduct personal checks on all forensic analysts, to ensure the mobile labs produced the highest quality of testing.

“Those analysts have got to be properly trained and they’ve got to be properly qualified. There will be none of this nonsense of taking someone with a diploma, and unleashing them on the public. It needs to be someone who has a proper and adequate chemical background,” he explained.

The mobile labs will likely be coordinated with a special teaching institution, aimed at providing education in the field of forensic science. Another component is that the labs could potentially serve as a means of monitoring drug abuse as well.

Each lab will be situated on the load bed of an eight ton track, with the cost of getting each facility up and running expected to be just over R4 million.

Klatzow was hopeful that if the concept bore some fruition, it could be expanded nationwide. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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