‘Speedster’ off hook

2014-06-25 00:00

AN alleged 190 km/h motorcycle speedster walked away from a R12 000 fine yesterday after prosecutors failed to prove the device that nabbed him was accurate and working properly.

Dirk Putter (36) from Margate yesterday won his appeal in the Pietermaritzburg high court against his conviction and the fine for speeding on the N2 last year.

He declined to comment when contacted soon after learning the verdict, but his attorney, Connie Geldenhuys, welcomed the court’s finding.

Putter was charged with riding his motorcycle at a speed of 190 km/h along the N2 near the Ifafa bridge on February 24 last year.

He, however, disputed the speed and pleaded not guilty at his trial in the Scottburgh magistrate’s court.

Yesterday, Judge Philip Nkosi, with Judge Johan Ploos van Amstel, agreed with submissions by defence advocate Deon Schaup that the state had not proved its case against Putter.

The prosecution had failed to call an expert witness to prove that the apparatus used to record the speed of his motorcycle was capable of accurately recording the speed and was functioning properly at the time.

According to the court papers, Putter wasn’t pulled over immediately at the place where the speed was recorded. He was only stopped 10 km further on by a different traffic officer.

In evidence, the senior traffic officer who recorded his speed, H.J. Grotius, agreed that he didn’t stop Putter straight away, but said this was for “safety reasons”.

He had asked his colleague further ahead to stop the motorcycle.

He then drove there and showed Putter the apparatus and the speed and range that were recorded on the device.

He alleged Putter admitted he’d been speeding.

When Putter asked how the device worked, Grotius was allegedly not able to explain to him how the device measured speed and told him that this was for an expert to explain.

Geldenhuys said yesterday he was not surprised by the appeal court’s verdict in favour of Putter.

He said it would not set a legal precedent since it was already “fixed law” in cases like this that the state has to lead expert testimony to prove that the apparatus in question was working and was accurate.

“The onus is on the state to prove the guilt of the accused and it must prove the accuracy of the machine. To do that, expert evidence must be led,” he said.

Howard Dembovsky of Justice Project SA said he had no problem with speedsters on the roads being taken to task, provided that it was done accurately.

“It is for them [the authorities] to prove that the machine is accurate. It is not for the motorists to disprove the alleged speed … that is how criminal law works.”

Dembovsky said the training of traffic officers needed to be looked at.

“They undergo a three-hour course on how to operate the apparatus and then they get an operator’s certificate.”

He added that the officers are not required to do refresher courses and said it was also a problem that they are not provided with the operator’s manuals for the machines.

“If you buy a microwave, you need the manual. Why should this be any different?” he said.

The head of communications at the KZN Department of Transport, Nathi Sukazi, said the department could only comment on the specifics of the case once it had studied the judgment. However, he said provincial traffic officers received reasonable training on how to operate the speed timing devices.

“The bottom line is they must have a competent understanding of how to operate the machine.

“They are not technicians. But having said that, the department is always looking to close gaps, if there are any.”

He said it was important if the war against road carnage was to be won for all road users to accept that everyone has a vested interest in observing the rules of the road.

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