Spate of excessively high speed and DUI offences is of major concern

JOHANNESBURG – Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) has noted the prevailing trend of motorists being arrested for allegedly driving at excessively high speeds reported by the Road Traffic Management Corporation. It has been reported that a 24-year-old motorist is due in court in Scottburgh, KwaZulu-Natal today (3 January 2017) for allegedly driving at 224km/h on the N2 highway on Monday. On Friday 30 December 2016, it was reported that a motorist had been arrested for driving at a whopping 293km/h on the Mabobane Highway in Tshwane.

There are several issues that are of major concern to JPSA, not least of which is the fact that there can be no valid justification for people to drive at such excessively high speeds on public roads, particularly in light of the high probability of crashes occurring.

It recently become law in terms of Regulation 215(1A) that all minibuses, midibuses, buses and goods vehicles with a GVM of more than 3,500kg registered on or after 1 December 2016 must be fitted with a speed governor limiting them to a maximum speed of 100km/h. The question must be asked: “if the maximum general speed limit applicable in South Africa is 120km/h, then why is it that all motor vehicles should not be speed-governed?”

Instead, it would appear that the RTMC is calling upon judicial officers to violate the provisions of Section 35 of the National Road Traffic Act by stating that Magistrates should cancel, instead of suspend the driving licenses of persons convicted of high-speed offences.

Section 35 of the National Road Traffic Act prescribed that courts must, upon first conviction, suspend the driving licence of any person convicted of driving where “a speed in excess of 30 kilometres per hour over the prescribed general speed limit in an urban area was recorded or a speed in excess of 40 kilometres per hour over the prescribed general speed limit outside an urban area or on a freeway was recorded”.

This is not a discretionary provision and judicial officers are required, in terms of this peremptory requirement to suspend the convicted person’s driving licence unless extraordinary mitigating circumstances relating to the commission of the offence. The minimum prescribed suspension periods are six months upon first conviction, five years upon second conviction and ten years on third and subsequent convictions. The same suspension periods exist for convictions for failing to stop at, or  fleeing from the scene of a crash where another person is injured or killed, or serious damage to property including a vehicle or animal occurs, reckless or negligent driving and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In December 2016, a KwaZulu-Natal Magistrate attracted the wrath and criticism of the RTMC when he imposed a R40,000 fine and suspended the driving licence of a man convicted for driving at 223km/h. What the RTMC doesn’t appear to realise, alternatively deliberately ignores is that judicial officers are compelled to act within the framework of the law. If the RTMC wants the driving licenses of convicted persons cancelled instead, then it should be petitioning the Minister and Department of Transport to amend the law, not criticising judicial officers for applying it properly.

It is also notable that the levels of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol have spiked dramatically during the festive season. This offence is arguably amongst the most dangerous road crimes which can be committed by anyone, yet it remains a huge problem in South Africa. Sadly however, it is highly unlikely that we will hear of many convictions arising out of these arrests, due to the ongoing dysfunctionality which prevails in the Department of Health’s evidential blood testing facilities.

This, quite simply cannot be blamed on the courts, and the sooner proper and legally sound evidential breath alcohol testing is reintroduced, the better. The answer however does not lie in accusing the courts of being “soft on road crimes” and/or detaining accused persons for extended periods of time prior to them even seeing the inside of a court, as has repeatedly been suggested and threatened by the Minister of Transport and the RTMC.