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Red-light traffic vigilante gets cold shoulder from cops

Published Jun 29, 2010

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Civic-minded attempts to have traffic offenders fined are likely to face more barriers than bouquets, Brian Cox of Cape Town has learned.

He complained to Argus Action that the provincial and city governments had sent him from pillar to post when he asked for assistance after taking photos of drivers failing to obey traffic regulations at a busy intersection.

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(See the numbers at the bottom of this story for the Cape Town Traffic helpline should you see an ongoing road traffic offence and the cops will will get there soonest - put them in your cellphone!)

"Wearing a bright orange T-shirt, I stood in full view at a busy intersection and took photographs of vehicles that had crossed the solid stop line while the traffic light was red.

"This is an offence in terms of the Road Traffic Act, and punishable with a fine," Cox said.

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But for 10 weeks after asking the province to help him ensure the offenders were fined, he was referred back and forth between it and the City of Cape Town, "with neither willing to consider my submission and both fobbing me off".

Both referred him to the police to lay charges against the drivers.

"They refuse to assist by providing the names of the vehicle owners to facilitate this," complained Cox. "In addition, they require that I appear in court repeatedly to proceed with the charges against these so-far phantom drivers."

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As a taxpayer he interpreted the lack of assistance as obstruction of justice and dereliction of duty from governments he paid to enforce the law.

"I do not have the time to perform their duties, as I have my own set of duties to perform for my employer... Effectively, I pay for service but I do not receive it."

The province and city were refusing to consider the "boldly obvious photographic evidence" he was willing to give to any authorised forensic specialist to verify its authenticity.

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"They repeatedly try to make this my problem. I expect those whom I pay to perform their duties."

Heathcliff Thomas, chief of traffic services for the city, said Cox was "advised correctly" when he was referred to the police. "Traffic Services does not prosecute offenders - this is the work of the National Prosecuting Agency (NPA). Traffic Services does not carry out investigations as this is the work of the SA Police Service and the NPA," said Thomas.

Traffic officers had special powers and authority to charge offenders and to appear in court to give evidence to prove a case.

The person witnessing an offence had to take the matter further, said Thomas. "No person can testify on behalf of somebody else. I cannot testify that a member of the public took a photograph or that he did it in the correct way or without tampering with it.

"The witness must appear, as the prosecutor and the accused must be able to test the evidence to determine guilt."

WAS THE OWNER THE DRIVER?

An allegation against any person had to be laid with the police, who had the authority to investigate. "The private details of drivers cannot be made available to members of the public as the allegation must be investigated, as it may not be true."

Possibilities to be considered included whether the person committing the offence had a good reason and if the owner was the driver.

"Collecting information and taking statements is part of the SAPS investigation. After that the prosecutor will decide if the case will proceed," said Thomas.

Cape Town attorney Malcolm Roup said anyone attempting to have offenders fined had to be prepared to spend a lot of time in court. "You are the sole state witness, which means you have to go to court all the time.

"He could bring a private prosecution but that is very expensive, and too risky as it is not always easy to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt when it is one person's word against another's.

"The photos could be of assistance - it is unlikely that someone would go to so much trouble to produce doctored photos." - Cape Argus

Cape Town traffic helpline: 0860-765423 or 021 596-1999.

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