2020/21 Festive Season

RTMC threatens motorists with unlawful arrest

ANPR cameras are used to identify vehicles with unpaid traffic fines

Justice Project South Africa (“JPSA”) notes with concern that the RTMC has stated its intention to flout the law and violate the Constitution this festive season.

According numerous media reports, “The RTMC advises 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.”

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.

A traffic fine however constitutes an allegation of wrongdoing. It is not an invoice or a tax. 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.

“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,” said JPSA’s Chairperson, Howard Dembovsky. “The RTMC is too fond of threatening motorists with things that are not provided for in law,” he continued.

For many years now, 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.

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 concluded.


UPDATE

In response to requests for clarification from Amanda Watson, a senior journalist at The Citizen regarding what legislation provides for traffic officers to prevent motorists from proceeding with their journey if they have outstanding traffic fines, the spokesperson for the RTMC, Simon Zwane said:

“I said people should check if they don’t have warrants of arrests against their name. Warrants issued in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act. Many parts of the country are using section 56 notices of CPA to issue traffic fines and warrants are issued for people fail to pay and fail to appear in court. It is not an Aarto process”. However, as appears below, this is not what the RTMC’s press statement said.

Zwane then went on to say: “It’s warrants issued against unpaid traffic fines and failure to appear in court on the date stated on the traffic notice issued. The starting is an in unpaid fine that leads to a warrant.”

Again, JPSA reiterates that a warrant of arrest in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act will only ever arise in respect of a traffic fine if a person is summoned to appear in court and fails to appear. There is no requirement in the Criminal Procedure Act that anyone MUST pay an admission of guilt fine, and in so doing, admit that they are guilty of the alleged criminal offence.

It is not clear why the RTMC continues to believe that it can threaten unlawful actions. The difficulty with it doing so is that some traffic officers may believe the RTMC and end up inviting a flood of civil claims against their employers when they unlawfully arrest people.

The RTMC’s press release appears below (with the relevant text highlighted):

08112020-Festive-season-arrests-highlighted