Johannesburg - Relax, says the Automobile Association, speed limits haven't changed and trucks can’t be pulled off the road during peak periods. Not yet, anyway.
The AA says it’s getting phone calls every day from motorists about alleged changes to the speed limits, as well as the operating-hours statutes for heavy hauliers - and it’s advising them not to repeat these social-media rumours without getting the facts first.
It would seem that the ‘Facebook warriors’ who pick up on and share these scare stories don’t get the essential difference between a proposal and a law.
The minister of transport is allowed insert new regulations, change or even repeal (remove) existing ones from the relevant chapters of the National Road Traffic Act - but it’s not that simple; it never is when government departments are involved, and with good reason.
The process starts when the desk drivers at the department of transport issue a proposal for a new or amended regulation. That proposal is published in the Government Gazette, where any internet troll can read it - but that doesn’t mean it’s law. First there has to be a comment period during which you and I - and Mr Troll - have the opportunity to put in our two cents worth, by letter (remember them?) or by email.
When the comment period closes, the transport bureaucrats read through all the comments that have come in them (they have to!) and decide how to proceed from there. The process is quite flexible; just because something has been proposed doesn’t mean that it’ll get into the law books.
The departmental bureaucrats write radical proposals calling for draconian punishments, knowing full well that some of them are unconstitutional, some unenforceable and all of them are going to be watered down, rewritten or even rejected in committee before the proposal becomes a new law.
Each proposal is published with contact details, including an email address, so that you or I can submit comments. But the trolls see the raw proposals, immediately start getting hot under the head gasket, and put it out there that those proposals are a fait accompli - and with every ‘like’ and ‘share’ the perception in the cybergarage that the proposals are one signature away from the law books gains traction.
Panic in the cybergarage
What gave rise to the latest social media frenzy, says the AA, was a 2015 proposal to lower speed limits by 20km/h across the board, and ban heavy goods vehicles from urban areas during peak traffic hours.
The association’s traffic-law boffins reckoned neither of these proposals had any merit - and said so in their comment submissions. The proposals didn’t make it out of the committee stage and they haven’t become law; the speed limits remain as per the road signage and truck drivers can still deliver wherever they have to, whenever they’re told to.
But that didn’t stop the amateur activists from spreading a panic in the cybergarage, when what they should have been doing was to safeguard their rights by spelling out their objections in submissions to the email address given with the proposal, rather than whip up a frenzy when it was already too late.
So the next time you see a social media post about a draconian new traffic law, go to the Government Gazette website, read the actual proposal and then tell the bureaucrats who wrote it exactly why it’s ridiculous by submitting your comments to them rather than on Facebook.