An SMS notification of a fine issued by the City of Cape Town.

Cape Town - Motorists who receive an SMS notification of a traffic fine or summons could challenge the legality of the practice in court if they didn’t receive a printed version, or if they weren’t formally served with the summons, those in the industry say.

Many motorists have been ignoring SMSes received, fearing they could be part of a scam. However, according to the City of Cape Town, the SMSes are legitimate.

Mayco member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, said SMSes were sent because, since the correct residential addresses for motorists were not always reflected on the eNATIS system, they usually did not receive notices or summonses. The SMS also informs a recipient that prosecution will continue if they do not receive a fine because the address at which the vehicle is registered is not up to date.

It is the responsibility of every vehicle owner to notify the city of a change of address, he said.

Smith pointed out that the SMSes did not replace notices or fines. SMS notifications advise motorists to view or pay the fines at or their nearest traffic department. If summonses have been issued, motorists are advised to go to the traffic department or traffic court. The city received the cellphone information from commercial sources because it was more accurate.

But Howard Dembovsky, of the Justice Project SA, said SMSes were not legal notification.

“How certain are they that they have the correct cellphone numbers?”

It was also the city’s duty to ensure that the correct residential addresses were on the database.

“Nowhere in the Criminal Procedure Act is an SMS catered for.”

He added that summonses must be delivered by hand, and pointed out that the law allowed for non-personal service. However, he advised motorists to check whether they had any outstanding fines.

Cornelia van Niekerk, of traffic fines management company Fines4U, said if an SMS was received in addition to an actual notice, it would be acceptable. However, she agreed that summonses must be delivered by hand.

She appealed to people to contact Fines4U if they were not served with a summons after receiving an SMS notification that a summons had been issued.

“We will fight it for them,” she said.

City attorney William Booth said that it was illegal for the city to continue with prosecution in cases in which motorists did not receive a fine or summons.

Booth said in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, a summons had to be served personally, or on someone at the intended recipient’s business or residential address.

Weekend  Argus