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chatty drivers to feel the heat

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Murray Williams

CAPE Town motorists caught talking on their cellphones without hands-free kits will have their phones confiscated from the start of next month – even if it is a first-time offence.

And they will have to wait 24 hours before they can reclaim their precious devices.

This road safety measure is in the City of Cape Town’s new traffic by-law, passed last year and now ready to be implemented.

Previously it was proposed that a three-strikes rule would apply before a phone could be confiscated.

The City’s mayco member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, explained the rationale for the hard-hitting step: “We’re hoping that everyone will finally get the message, grab for those hands-free kits and start using cellphones legally.”

Smith said the city issued a minimum of 8 000 fines a month for illegal cellphone use while driving.

“But it’s not changing behaviour – the fines are not working.

“So we must find a more powerful disincentive. Illegal cellphone use – either speaking, holding a handset or using the buttons to text, etcetera – is classified as ‘distracted driving’ and is one of the top four most dangerous driving habits, along with speeding, drinking and driving and not wearing seatbelts.”

Smith said that from July 1, motorists who contravened the by-law would be fined before the cellphone was confiscated.

Offending motorists would, however, be permitted to remove the memory and SIM cards. There would be no cost to reclaim the phone.

Initially, legislation proposed confiscations for third-time offences, but Smith said they had received legal advice that only a court could temper sanctions on a sliding scale.

As a result of this advice, all drivers – first-time and repeat offenders – would be liable to confiscations.

Asked about the possible argument, from drivers, that they could be unsafe without their cellphones, Smith said: “Apparently they are already unsafe with their phones. And the difference here is that they are endangering the lives of others too...

“The law doesn’t say you’re not allowed to use your cellphone. It simply says you must pull over, or use a hands-free kit.”

The new traffic by-law initially excluded this new action against motorists. But Smith said an article in the Cape Argus mooting the step had attracted such positive feedback that they had decided to pursue it.

Gary Ronald, spokesman for the AA, added : “

You have to admire the innovation – the thinking out of the box. The legislation is clear. The research data on the danger is clear.

“Like with the Name and Shame campaign, I don’t have any problem with cracking a different kind of whip if it means saving lives.”


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