Landmark Judgment: Private Estates may NOT enforce road traffic laws

Private estates may not enforce road traffic law. This was the finding of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in a long-running case in which Niemesh Singh, a resident of Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate, claimed that speed trapping in the estate was unlawful.

The judges in the case said that the estate had not taken the steps required by the National Road Traffic Act to erect road signs, and also said that enforcement may only be carried out by a peace officer.

“This brings to an end the long-held view of private residential estates that they may set speed limits and erect road signs without abiding by the restrictions of the National Road Traffic Act,” said JPSA Chair, Howard Dembovsky. “It also ensures that enforcement can only be carried out by a traffic officer who is authorised by law to do so.”

Dembovsky said that the roads within the vast majority of gated communities fall directly within the definition of a “public road” as is defined in the National Road Traffic Act and only duly authorised persons and/or bodies may erect road traffic signs.

Where a private estate wishes to erect its own road traffic signs,  authorisation may only be granted by the Minister of Transport, the MEC, or a person who is delegated such powers by the Minister or the MEC.

Dembovsky said the judgment confirmed everything JPSA had been saying for years with respect to the illegality of people such as security guards setting up speed measuring equipment, stopping alleged infringers and issuing them with fines which the estates in question then go further to stipulate must be dealt with on a “pay now, query later” basis, failing which some estates will even go so far as to unlawfully deny residents access to the estate in question.

Also included in the judgment was the striking down of the “domestic rules” of the estate which could only be likened to the curfews and pass laws imposed during the apartheid era. Amongst these “rules” were provisions such as only allowing domestic workers to walk on the streets in the estate between 06h00 and 18h00, compelling them to make use of designated bus stops, etc.

“JPSA wishes to congratulate Mr Singh  for their sheer persistence and courage in standing up to the private estates which have  set themselves up as enclaves operating outside the law and Constitution,” Dembovsky concluded.