WATCH: Fury at PMB blue light racers

2017-03-09 10:33
A screenshot of a video taken by an angry motorist on Mayor’s Walk. The video shows two vehicles, a white VW Polo and a white BMW, speeding down the road in the oncoming lane with their blue lights and hazards flashing.

A screenshot of a video taken by an angry motorist on Mayor’s Walk. The video shows two vehicles, a white VW Polo and a white BMW, speeding down the road in the oncoming lane with their blue lights and hazards flashing. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - Is it Msunduzi’s deputy mayor Thobani Zuma’s blue light brigade that is causing havoc on the city’s roads in the morning rush hour?

That’s what many residents who enter the city through the Prestbury and Blackridge areas want to know.

This after luxury cars flashing blue lights are allegedly being seen driving “recklessly” down Swartkop Road and Mayor’s Walk. Angry and frustrated motorists who battle through the slow-moving bumper-to-bumper morning traffic have at different times spotted a white BMW, a Polo and sometimes a luxury Mercedes “flying past” them. The vehicles are followed by a white Polo sedan believed to be driven by municipal bodyguards.

The vehicles are driven in the oncoming lane with flashing blue lights all the way into the city’s CBD, according to a number of motorists travelling on that stretch of road. The white Mercedes, with registration plates NPC 2, was spotted on Wednesday morning driving at a high speed in the oncoming lane.

The Witness asked the municipality specifically who the vehicle belongs to, but Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha avoided the question. A number of other sources from the municipality told The Witness that the vehicle with registration NPC 2 is used by Deputy Mayor Thobani Zuma for official events.

The sources also revealed that Zuma often travels to the city hall in the same white BMW with the flashing blue lights. Mafumbatha said Zuma travels in a number of cars and that the city would investigate the allegations.

“We are not aware of such conduct. The municipality cannot condone such behaviour and if an investigation proves that there are people who are doing that they will be dealt with accordingly,” Mafumbatha said.

Different sources expressed different opinions on whether mayors and deputy mayors were legally allowed to use blue lights on their vehicles. Department of Transport spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said the department discourages the use of blue lights.

Ncalane said the officials were allowed to use blue lights on their vehicles if they were driven by a member of the police or traffic department.

“It also depends on the security arrangement made for the specific official but we as a department still discourage the use of the blue lights,” he said.

In 2012, then Transport and Community Safety MEC Liaison Willies Mchunu issued a statement that “the display of a blue light does not automatically mean road traffic signs and the speed limit may be exceeded”.

One motorist, who asked not to be named, said he saw the white BMW travelling at high speed “almost every morning” for the last three weeks. He said the blue light vehicles also have their hazard lights flashing. “They shoot through the traffic so fast. People are almost knocked over when those cars come flying past,” he said.

The frustrated motorist said the vehicles seem to be travelling from the Sweetwaters area and are often seen between 6.50 am and 7.10 am during peak traffic. The motorist said he saw Zuma behind the wheel of the white BMW last week “but it went by so fast I could not snap a picture”.

“These are obviously officials who have total disregard for the rules of the road. If it happened once or twice then we would understand there was an emergency but this has been happening almost daily now,” said the motorist.

He said he belonged to the Prestbury Crime Watch Whatsapp chat group and there were often complaints regarding these vehicles posted in the group. He said on one occasion he witnessed a pointsman, who assists children to cross the busy road, dive for safety when the vehicles sped past him.

“There are at least 10 complaints a week about these vehicles. They drive so recklessly, they are almost smashing into cars and people. How do we enforce the law if our own leaders cannot set the correct example?” he asked.

Mafumbatha urged motorists and pedestrians to report any irregular conduct that poses a threat to them.

Prestbury ward councillor Ross Strachan said the issue was brought to his attention through the Prestbury CPF platform.

Numerous attempts to speak to Zuma and the Speaker, Jabu Ngubo, this week were unsuccessful.

Watch: City fury at blue light racers

What the law says about blue and red lights

Wheels24 recently published this article on government vehicles using blue lights.

Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) and Arrive Alive explains who have rights of way.

1. Can government vehicles force you off the road?

Arrive Alive: If a vehicle displays a blue light it has priority in traffic and you must move out of the way if it is safe to do so.

You cannot decide which blue lights are important and which not. If you think the light was used illegally, take the number down and report it.

JPSA: No vehicle may lawfully force you off the road.

2. Do you have to make way for government vehicles?

JPSA: Every motorist is legally obliged to give an immediate and absolute right of way to a vehicle displaying red or blue (or a combination thereof) flashing lights and sounding its siren.

3. Is it the same for all provinces?

JPSA: The National Road Traffic Act and its regulations is national legislation and applies EVERYWHERE in South Africa.

4. What does the law say?

JPSA: Regulation 308(h) of the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2000 says “No person driving or having a vehicle on a public road shall fail to give an immediate and absolute right of way to a vehicle sounding a device or bell or displaying an identification lamp in terms of section 58(3) or 60 or Regulation 176”.

5. What can be done to improve the use of these lights?

Arrive Alive: Controlling the use of blue lamps is the government’s responsibility. The onus is not on road users to regulate and/or enforce it.

JPSA: Lots, but probably too much to contemplate in a news article.

At a fundamental level, however, JPSA holds that the term “emergency” must be defined in the National Road Traffic Act and drivers of vehicles displaying flashing red/blue lights and sounding sirens must only be allowed to lawfully use them in a bona fide emergency and within a strict framework of operational requirements like — for example — limiting the speed with which they may disregard a red traffic light signal.

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