Don’t drink and walk on the road?

Don't Drink And Walk.

What’s behind this strange warning label on the back of some South African wine bottles?

We’ve had many giggles about this seemingly funny warning that appears on the back of our wine labels. Most tourists are bewildered, and not quite sure if it’s meant to be funny. I was recently asked by a Insta friend to explain this. And as I attempted to answer his question as concisely but as briefly as possible, I fully realised how a short Insta answer didn’t do the relevance of this warning justice.

South African labelling laws require alcohol to include one of 7 health warning labels on the products:

1. Alcohol reduces driving ability, don’t drink and drive. 

2. Drinking during pregnancy can be harmful to your unborn baby. 

3. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health. 

4. Alcohol increases your risk to personal injuries. 

5. Alcohol is a major cause of violence and crime. 

6. Alcohol is addictive. 

7. Don’t drink and walk on the road, you may be killed.

It’s up to the producer to choose which label they use. These warning messages were proposed back in 2005. And back then, one of the proposals was that the warning message would need to be rotated and changed every month…as well as appear in all official languages. Needless to say, there was a fair amount of outrage. But discourse was also encouraged, and finally these health labelling laws were implemented.

Most of these, society has come to learn, are self explanatory. So why the particular amusement over the last warning option?

Consider how many people in South Africa travel by foot. Not everyone has the privilege of driving. Our country is scarred by years of inequality, and the vast majority of our citizens use public transport and walk to reach their destinations. 

Consider that very little of South Africa is developed. And thank goodness for the raw and spectacular landscapes that remain untouched by buildings. But even within major cities, extensive sprawling informal settlements exist. These are often near highways and pedestrians walk along these motorways. In my neighbourhood, there’s a fairly busy road that connects suburbs…yet, there is no pavement for pedestrians to use safely. Once I noticed this road, I started to see how many other suburban roads don’t make provision for pedestrian pavements.

Consider the major party hubs. Long Street in Cape Town instantly comes to mind. Watching people zig zag and dodge the traffic, both day and night, makes you understand why it’s long been suggested that this very busy road, filled with back to back restaurants, pubs and clubs, be converted to a pedestrian-only street.

Consider that, in South Africa, pedestrians account for 35-40% of all road fatalities. Most of these fatalities are attributed to pedestrians and drivers being under the influence of alcohol. (Source: Arrive Alive, South Africa) In December 2016, 60% of pedestrians killed on the roads had alcohol in their systems.

It suddenly becomes apparent that this label is the furthest from funny. Think about the last time you had one too many and your Uber was waiting for you on the other side of the street. Did you look right, then left, then right again? 

I have my doubts about whether the warning on the back label of a bottle of booze really makes a difference. But it is part of a larger campaign where the message is reinforced through billboards, tv ads, newspaper ads etc. I’ve often wondered if there was a better way to word the message? But ultimately, it’s succinct. And complete and utter common sense when we’re sober. So maybe, as the laughter dies down, and before we move onto the next topic at our social gatherings…just maybe the message could sink in. Don’t drink and walk on the road. You may be killed.


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