You get fine, your phone goes to jail

By Sibusiso Nkomo Time of article published Jul 6, 2012

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Shock, irritation, denial and even crying were the order of the day along Nelson Mandela Boulevard in central Cape Town as drivers had their cellphones confiscated in full view of the media on Thursday.

Yesterday marked the first day that drivers who were caught talking on their cellphones without headsets or hands-free kits while driving had their phones confiscated by traffic officers.

The city’s traffic department and metro police put the new traffic by-law into effect with a special operation on Nelson Mandela Boulevard on Thursday evening.

The first driver to have his phone confiscated, a cab driver, was nabbed on Long Street.

Traffic services spokeswoman Maxine Jordaan said the driver had been fined R500 for talking on his phone while driving and would be able to collect his handset after 24 hours. The phones are kept in a walk-in safe at Gallows Hill traffic department.

If your phone is confiscated on Friday, however, you can only collect it on Monday.

Traffic offices are closed over the weekend.

The operation along Nelson Mandela Boulevard started at 3pm and ended at 7pm. Seventeen traffic and metro police officers were on duty. Another operation took place at the same time on the N1 between Coen Steytler and the N7. The two operations netted about 16 drivers, whose cellphones were confiscated.

Further down the N2 highway on a pedestrian bridge, other officers were stationed to film drivers speaking or SMSing on their phones. Those spotted were pulled over by Ghost Squad members notified via radio.

JP Smith, the city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, who was stationed at the Browning Road N2 point, said the video evidence was crucial.

“There are no arguments; there is incontrovertible evidence.”

The first driver was pulled over at 3.48pm and was shocked when she saw a swarm of photographers and cameramen swamp her car while traffic officers explained why she was pulled over.

The woman, clearly shocked, kept looking down when told to remove her SIM card and memory card before handing over her phone.

This caused traffic to slow to a crawl as other drivers became curious about what was going on. She did not give her name.

In two instances, we noticed drivers putting their phones on their laps to avoid being spotted.

The whole process to have a phone confiscated takes about 15 minutes from the time the person is stopped.

The second woman who was pulled over had her dog with her.

Asked why she was speaking on her phone while driving, she said she was rushing to get to her “daughter who was giving birth”.

Asked by a traffic officer if she knew that she had broken the law, she said: “Yes”.

The woman said she was okay with the R500 fine but it would be difficult to be without her phone as her work required her to travel a lot.

While officers were taking down her details, she had a few minutes to do a live radio interview about her experience.

Later, an angry North West man was not happy that the media was photographing him and would not speak to the press, but he did ask traffic officers to make one last call before his cellphone was confiscated.

One of the last drivers to be stopped was aggressive at times and then later broke down in tears.

Asked what kind of BlackBerry she had, she retorted: “I don’t know”.

When a traffic officer was trying to calm her down and explain what the by-law said, she told him: “I don’t give a s***. I’m trying to be calm.”

She then started crying and kept checking on her child in the back.

Smith said 8000 fines a month were issued for cellphone use, but that it was not changing the behaviour of motorists.

He hoped confiscations would be a “more powerful disincentive”.

“Cellphone use while driving is classified as distracted driving and is as bad as drunk driving,” he said.


Despite the implementation of a new by-law whereby motorists caught talking on their cellphones while driving without headsets or hands-free kits would have their phones confiscated, many drivers continue to risk it.

We spent an hour at a busy intersection at Long Street and Buitensingel on Thursday and watched 1629 cars drive past.

Of those, 42 drivers were using their phone illegally while driving either talking or texting.

Nine were spotted using their hands-free kits, most of those men. And while not illegal, 47 were seen either eating or smoking. - Cape Argus

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