SLEEPY motorists will now be pulled off the road, forced to rest and have their vehicle’s keys confiscated, in a drastic move by provincial traffic authorities who say they will push ahead even if it is illegal.
The initial fatigue management plan aimed at public transport has been operating for a year, but yesterday provincial traffic chief Kenny Africa said he had extended it three days ago to include all drivers.
He had been advised to do so by Transport and Public Works MEC Robin Carlisle.
Yesterday Carlisle said 54 people had died in road accidents in the province since the start of December and at least 25 were fatigue-related.
Asked if it was legal to confiscate drivers’ keys and force them to rest, he said: “I have no idea, but I don’t care either... We’ve got no option but to pull out all the stops, whether illegal or legal... I just don’t know what else to do than to become very rough.”
Local criminal lawyer William Booth said there had to be a law in place in order for traffic officers to carry it out, but as far as he was aware no such law existed and there was no legal basis for it to be done.
Automobile Association of SA spokesman Gary Ronald said while it would be “very difficult” to measure fatigue, even if the measure was illegal, he believed its intention was good.
“It’s a great initiative just to get the message across.”
Ronald said fatigue played a “massive” role in road deaths, and truck drivers were among those worst affected by it.
Yesterday Africa confirmed that the measure would be carried out. He had sent out an urgent message on Friday notifying traffic officers to be on the lookout for sleepy drivers.
He said officers would look out for symptoms including red eyes and drowsiness when trying to identify a tired driver.
If an officer felt a driver was fatigued, the officer would confiscate the driver’s keys and park the vehicle in a safe spot. The traffic officer would then watch over the resting driver.
Africa said if the driver was “obviously fatigued”, he or she would be made to rest for two to three hours.
The public transport fatigue management plan started on December 22 last year and Africa said one of the first drivers was pulled over near the Huguenot Tunnel.
After being forced to rest for two hours, he said officers had been unable to rouse the driver as he was sleeping so deeply.
In one of the latest fatigue clampdowns, Africa said between 8pm on Saturday and 6am yesterday on the “death stretch”, the road between Beaufort West, Laingsburg and Aberdeen, traffic officers had stopped 17 000 taxis.
Of these, he said 3 000 drivers had appeared fatigued and were “parked”.
“We confiscated their (vehicle) keys to enforce rest.”
Africa warned other drivers that this would happen to them regardless of the type of vehicle they drove or the road they were spotted on.
Another matter authorities were focusing on was drunk driving.
At the weekend, 19 drunk
drivers were arrested around the province.
Yesterday National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Eric Ntabazalila said the NPA was focusing on the main count related to drunk driving – driving under the influence of alcohol.
This was different to the alternative count a driver could face, of driving with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit.
“The main count is more serious and carries a harsher penalty,” Ntabazalila said.
A driver could face a R180 000 fine or nine months imprisonment, or both, if found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Ntabazalila said while the NPA was focusing on the driving under the influence of alcohol count, blood samples would still be taken from suspected drunk drivers so that if there was not enough evidence to support the main count, the State could pursue the alternative blood alcohol content count.
Regional justice department head Hishaam Mohamed said the department welcomed any measures that would lead to greater accountability.
“However, a blood alcohol test remains the primary evidentiary proof for the successful conviction of drunken driving,” he said.
Mohamed said the turnaround time for blood test results was between three to eight months, which was “obviously unacceptable”.
He hoped the forensic laboratory in Plattekloof would reduce the turnaround time.