Drivers who flout the rules of the road could soon get the “cellphone treatment” as Western Cape provincial traffic services review the possibility of confiscating vehicles for anything from driving without a licence to speeding.
This follows the introduction of regulations that enable traffic officials to “discontinue” cars found being driven without number plates.
Coupled with the confiscation of cellphones from drivers found chatting at the wheel, this represents the latest in a series of regulations as part of the provincial transport department’s new “no nonsense” approach.
For transport and public works MEC Robin Carlisle the impounding of cars is a logical and appropriate punishment for traffic offenders.
He said the current fine system was too lenient and did little to discourage drivers from speeding or disobeying traffic laws.
“What’s a R250 speeding fine to someone in a R300 000 car? Nothing, they just don’t care.”
Last weekend traffic authorities prosecuted more than 1600 motorists for driving over the speed limit in the Western Cape. Provincial traffic chief Kenny Africa said one had been caught driving at 185km/h in a 120km/h zone.
Carlisle said: “It’s frustrating, and it’s all too common. You can clearly see that something needs to be done.”
He said the confiscation of cellphones had proved effective.
“While the evidence isn’t exactly empirical, traffic officials are telling me they pull over far fewer drivers for talking on their phones.”
It is this same system Carlisle hopes to extend to vehicles belonging to traffic offenders.
“Give someone a fine and they wave it off,” he said.
Take away their car, and you will see them start hurting.”
The details of how the impounding will work have not been ironed out yet. A team was looking at where there was legal legroom to extend impounding to vehicles outside the public transport and business sector.
Carlisle remained positive that a new set of regulations would be introduced soon.
As it stands, under the Road Traffic Act 93 of 96 private vehicles may be impounded for:
A parking offence causing obstruction.
Any vehicle deemed to be abandoned on a public road.
A vehicle not displaying any form of identification.
Buses and taxis can also be impounded for not having a permit or operating contrary to a permit.
Carlisle was adamant that there was legal room to broaden the grounds for impoundment.
He said the aim would be to confiscate cars for up to a week, depending on the nature of the offence, which could include:
Driving without a valid licence.
Driving an unlicensed or unregistered vehicle.
Driving a car that was not roadworthy.
“The new regulations should be up for public participation by November at the earliest, but it could be pushed up until February,” said Carlisle.
The city and provincial traffic services are in the process of establishing 10 new pounds across the Western Cape over the next three years.
Carlisle said despite the shortage of pounds, there would always be space to expand and cope with the demands of the new regulations.
The city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said impounding was the only way to ensure that offenders were forced to face up to their transgressions, and pay to reclaim their vehicles from the pound instead of just evading fines.
“We have seen minibus taxis routinely ignoring traffic fines and evading paying them.”
“We have also seen a steady increase of unlicensed drivers and unlicensed vehicles because the criminal justice system is simply not effectively bringing people to book once they have received a traffic fine for these offences.”
Automobile Association spokesman Graeme Scala supported the idea of stricter punishment for errant motorists, saying the current fine system merely turned speeding drivers into “revenue generators rather than improving road safety”.
But he said the new regulations would mean nothing without proper enforcement.
“We’ve seen it time and time again: these new traffic regulations are introduced and then nothing happens.
They must be visibly policed for more than just a month; it needs to happen year round. Otherwise it’s just talk.”
He said confiscating vehicles would take far more man hours than retroactively issuing traffic fines.
“Without a doubt, this type of regulation would improve the safety for motorists on our roads. I think that if they are introduced, what we will see is drivers completely re-evaluating the way they drive.”
ZERO TOLERANCE IN IN CANADA, DOWN UNDER
The Western Cape government is not the first to consider a zero-tolerance approach to speeders.
Since 2010, traffic authorities in British Columbia, Canada, have been allowed to impound cars belonging to the province’s top traffic offenders for as long as a week.
Repeat offenders can lose their cars for as long as two months.
The province has strict rules on speeding, with anybody caught travelling 40km/h or more over the posted speed limit – which is the legal definition of “excessive speeding” in the province - liable to have their cars impounded for up to 48 hours.
This increases exponentially for every prior traffic offence on the driver’s record.
Australia also has a strict approach when it comes to traffic offenders. While cars can be impounded for a variety of reasons, they are mainly confiscated when the driver is caught speeding (40km/h over the limit), causing undue noise or is involved in a road rage incident.
Vehicles can also be impounded if the motorist is caught driving without a licence, driving an unlicensed or unregistered vehicle, or driving while their licence is suspended or expired.
According to the World Health Organisation, Australia had only seven deaths on the road per 100 000 people in 2009.
Canada had slightly more at about nine deaths per 100 000 people.
South Africa recorded 33 deaths per 100 000 people in the same year.
SILENCING MOTORMOUTH DRIVERS
Meanwhile, traffic officials have confiscated 1600 cellphones since the City of Cape Town started clamping down on drivers caught texting and chatting behind the wheel.
A by-law regulating this was introduced in July 2012 year as a measure to discourage motorists from using their phones while driving.
The regulation does not only allow traffic officials to confiscate phones but also to slap motorists with a R500 fine.
The by-law was welcomed by the public, but the regulation failed to take off in the way the city had hoped - many motorists were still taking chances.
Therefore, in July this year, the city introduced a further R1100 recovery fee for motorists to reclaim their confiscated phones.
Smith said that of the 1600 phones had been impounded since the by-law was introduced, about 170 had not yet been collected.
If phones are not collected within three months they are auctioned off to the public, with the first auction set to take place in November 2013 - Cape Argus