Civil society group Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) says it is concerned with recent statements made by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) which it says flout the law and violate the Constitution.
In a statement this week. the RTMC advised all motorists to check if they have any outstanding traffic fines before embarking on their festive journeys.
“Traffic officers are being deployed on all major routes and those found with outstanding traffic fines will not be allowed to proceed,” it said.
“Traffic officers will also be deployed at various locations nationwide to deal with inconsiderate reckless and negligent driving, speeding, drunk driving, roadworthiness and overloading.”
However, the JPSA’s chairperson Howard Dembovsky said that there is no provision in any law that authorises traffic officers to prevent motorists from proceeding with their journey if they are found to have outstanding traffic fines.
A traffic fine is not a warrant of arrest and should not be regarded as one. An arrest warrant is issued by a judicial officer if a person has been summoned to court and has failed to appear, he said.
Dembovsky said that a traffic fine constitutes an allegation of wrongdoing. It is not an invoice or a tax.
This means that preventing anyone from proceeding with their journey on the strength of an “outstanding traffic fine” constitutes de facto unlawful arrest. Forcing such persons to pay a fine or fines under threat of formal arrest constitutes extortion, he said.
“As much as I detest having to continually repeat myself, it is high time that traffic law enforcement officials started obeying the provisions of the law that apply to them.
“The RTMC is too fond of threatening motorists with things that are not provided for in law,” he continued.
Dembovsky said for years the RTMC has threatened motorists who are alleged to be driving under the influence of alcohol with “a minimum of seven days in jail” before being allowed to make a bail application.
There is no such provision in the law that authorises this and it is unlikely that there ever will be, he said. He added that the RTMC is responsible for coordinating road traffic law enforcement nationally.
“Instead of inciting unlawful behaviour by traffic officers, the RTMC should be acting responsibly, by concentrating on initiatives that promote road safety and save lives, where reckless drivers are stopped before they crash into other road users,” Dembovsky said.
“While hidden speed cameras are super money-spinners for greedy municipalities and roadblocks can detect unroadworthy vehicles, together with those that have unpaid traffic fines, neither tackle the wanton reckless behaviour that plays itself out on our roads every day. Only professional visible and active policing can do that,” he said.