So when exactly can an officer arrest you for outstanding traffic fines?
JOHANNESBURG – The Road Traffic Management Corporation stirred up a hornet’s next last week with its threats to arrest motorists for outstanding traffic fines this Festive Season. These threats were met with condemnation, with the Automobile Association and Justice Project SA branding the statement as an illegal abuse of power.
On Friday, the RTMC issued a statement advising motorists to check if they have any outstanding traffic fines before taking to the roads this month as traffic officers were being deployed to all major routes and those found with outstanding fines would “not be allowed to proceed”.
Justice Project SA (JPSA) pointed out there was no provision in any law that authorised traffic officers to prevent motorists from proceeding with their journey if they were found to have outstanding traffic fines.
“A traffic fine is not a warrant of arrest and should not be regarded as one. An arrest warrant is issued by a judicial officer if a person has been summoned to court and has failed to appear,” the JPSA said.
The AA labeled the RTMC’s statement as “outrageous fear mongering” and urged it to immediately retract the threat.
How the RTMC responded
Although the RTMC did not retract the statement, it clarified the situation by saying motorists who had warrants of arrest for outstanding traffic fines could to be arrested.
“We are encouraging motorists with warrants of arrests for outstanding traffic fines to attend to these before they travel. The AA should first establish facts before jumping to conclusions,” RTMC spokesperson Simon Zwane said.
So when are police allowed to detain motorists?
According to the AA, the only time a road user may be detained at the roadside is if a warrant of arrest is issued against their name.
“Preventing someone from proceeding on a journey because of an outstanding traffic fine amounts to arrest without following due process,” the association added.
The association is also concerned police will use the earlier statement from the RTMC to misapply the law, and apply traffic law as they see fit.
“Is an outstanding fine a fine issued last week, last month, or yesterday? What if someone received a fine but decided to contest it before paying, would that amount to an outstanding fine? Again, the enormity of the legal shortcoming in this statement is glaring, and certainly unbecoming of an agency such as the RTMC,” the AA said.
More than 500 motorists arrested so far
According to the RTMC, more than 500 motorists had been arrested since the launch of its festive season road safety campaign last week. The majority of these arrests (219) were related to drunk driving, however, 189 had also been arrested for outstanding warrants.
The RTMC says 128 roadblocks had been conducted so far, with over 70 000 vehicles having been stopped and 56 805 fines issued. Furthermore, 312 vehicles have been taken off the road.
More visible and active policing needed
JPSA reiterated the need for more visible and active policing in order to tackle the real problem on South Africa’s roads:
“While hidden speed cameras are super money-spinners for greedy municipalities and roadblocks can detect unroadworthy vehicles, together with those that have unpaid traffic fines, neither tackle the wanton reckless behaviour that plays itself out on our roads every day. Only professional visible and active policing can do that,” Dembovsky said.