New rules curb blue-light bullies

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IOL oped news mar 11 traffic cop INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS File photo

Johannesburg - No beards, ponytails or hairpieces. No friends or family in official vehicles. No financial relationships that cause conflict of interest.

No misuse of force.

And no blue-light escorts.

These are some of the lengthy new national rules planned for all South African traffic officers.

“We want to create a 21st century traffic officer,” said Gilberto Martins, the deputy director-general at the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC).

“To do that, we’re really going to have to get ourselves some serious norms and standards.”

The Draft National Road Traffic Law Enforcement Code was gazetted last week in at least seven of the nine provinces, including Gauteng, with a 30-day window for comment.

It’s a bulky 478-page document that details everything from how officers should look after firearms and run hot-pursuit chases, to how they should dress.

Martins said the code aimed to set national standards for procedures and how the traffic law enforcement structures were run.

This includes the hotly contested aspects of remuneration, structures and uniforms.

What’s a little unclear is how they will deal with VIP and VVIP convoys, but it seems the intention is that they won’t be involved.

“It’s pragmatic. It’s not clear black and white,” said Martins.

“What we shouldn’t have is national traffic law enforcement officers leading VIP protection.

“That’s what VIP Protection is there for, and all their vehicles are kitted out to do it.”

He said if a convoy approached an intersection, the traffic officers could help at that intersection.

The code gives a hint: “Traffic vehicles must not be used to escort other vehicles on an emergency run,” states the brief rule for Emergency Escorts.

“When possible, officers may provide assistance at intersections.”

Martins acknowledged that the code didn’t specifically address this and that there may be a need for this.

He emphasised that the code focused on enforcement, and that VIP protection would be left to the SAPS.

Generally speeding by traffic officers is frowned on.

Officers may “pace” a speedster to check how fast they are going and stop them.

There’s a long section on pursuit of offenders and this emphasises public safety and the need for officers to justify the pursuit.

“Only marked vehicles with roof-mounted emergency light systems should engage in a pursuit.

“Unmarked vehicles must not become involved in any pursuit unless it involves a serious offence and the unmarked vehicle is the initiating vehicle.”

There are also clear guidelines on how and when to use force – including shooting suspects – and how to look after firearms.

The code includes forms for standardised structures and rank systems, and even how to tell if a driver is drunk.

Martins said drafting the code started in about 2010 and there had been extensive consultation.

After the last comments are received, the code will be finalised and issued.

Even then it will initially be voluntary rather than the law, as there are budget implications for the different authorities, but the RTMC hopes that the code will eventually be legally adopted by all authorities.

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