‘Cops can exceed speed limit’

2012-03-24 00:00

MEMBERS of the VIP Protection Unit and other police and traffic officials are entitled to exceed the speed limit on public roads when executing their duties, and not only in emergencies. But the provision of the National Road Traffic Act that allows them to do so also stipulates that they must have regard to the safety of other road users.

This emerged in evidence given in the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court yesterday by Christoffel van Niekerk, who is the legal services director in the KZN Department of Community Safety and Liaison.

Van Niekerk gave evidence at the request of regional magistrate Chris van Vuuren at the trial of VIP Protection Unit members Hlanganani Nxumalo and Caiphus Ndlela. The accused have pleaded not guilty to charges arising from an incident when shots were fired on the N3 near Ashburton on November 15, 2008, allegedly resulting in an accident.

Van Niekerk said he was only told on Thursday night he had to give evidence. After hearing his initial testimony the court adjourned until next week to give him time to read a transcript of the evidence to enable him to comment on the specific facts in the trial.

Van Niekerk was asked by the magistrate to clarify “where the line is drawn” as to when police officials on duty may transgress the normal rules of the road.

He told the court that police officials may exceed the speed limit when carrying out their duties, including the performance of protection services. There does not have to be an emergency, but the law clearly states that officials must have regard to the safety of other road users.

Asked to comment on the evidence given earlier in the trial by Martin Khanyile, a Protection Services training officer, Van Niekerk said it appeared to him that Khanyile had omitted to allude to the requirement that there must be regard for the safety of other road users, and apparently didn’t see it as a requirement.

Khanyile testified that there was poor public awareness in KZN about the need for motorists not to obstruct “blue light” vehicles. He said flashing lights and sirens were an indication that there was an “emergency” and that motorists were obliged to speed up or pull over if a car with blue lights was close behind them, even if this meant the motorists had to drive faster than the speed limit.

He said Protection Services officials were entitled to “do whatever they needed to eliminate threats” to them or the MECs they were protecting.

Nxumalo faces six counts of attempted murder and unlawful or negligent discharge of a firearm and Ndlela (who was driving the Protection Services vehicle) is charged with reckless and negligent driving.

In his evidence Nxumalo said he fired two warning shots because he believed his and Ndlela’s lives were in danger from motorist Anuvasen Moodley.

He alleged Moodley tried to force their vehicle off the road.

Moodley told the court he couldn’t move over for the blue light car because of trucks in the slow lane. He said that when Nxumalo fired at him he lost control of his vehicle out of fear and drove into the face of oncoming traffic.

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