Speed-trapping in SA: Can traffic cops hide in bushes?

Cape Town - A large proportion of the public believes speed-trapping, especially by officers hiding behind bushes and barriers, is unethical and should be illegal.

What does the law say about hiding and trapping drivers? Can officers trap speeding drivers on the opposite side of the road?

According to the National Road and Traffic act, there appears to be nothing illegal about 'hidden' traffic officials. Howard Dembovsky, national chairman of the Justice Project South Africa (JPSA), answers these questions and more.

Is speed-trapping effective?

Dembovsky said: "In my view, there is little or no value to mounting speed measuring exercises where people who are allegedly disobeying the speed limit are not stopped immediately at the time. Stopping someone who is disobeying the speed limit achieves a number of things, not least of which is that it actually halts the event of speeding, thereby averting any possible consequences which could arise therefrom.

Read: Global road deaths: How does SA compare?

"It also gives the traffic officer the opportunity to properly identify the driver of that vehicle and determine whether they are fit to be driving or not, as well as providing them with the opportunity to check the motor vehicle for roadworthiness."

Q&A with JPSA: Dealing with cops hiding in bushes

1 Where should traffic officers position themselves and a speed-camera when monitoring road users?
JPSA: Apart from the fact that laser speed-measuring equipment must be mounted on a firm and stable surface (a tripod), there is no prescript as to where traffic officers must position themselves.

There is an additional requirement however that no speed-measuring exercise may be mounted within 300m of the commencement of a particular speed limit.

2 Are traffic officers allowed to hide vehicles behind trees?
JPSA. Yes they are. In fact they are allowed to hide pretty much anywhere they like.

3 Are officers allowed to cross the road to stop speeding drivers, cross a barrier line, endanger his/her life on a dangerous section of the road?
I am afraid that in terms of the National Road Traffic Act, they are allowed to pretty much do what they like. They are not exempt from the Occupational Health and Safety Act however although I have never heard of a complaint being brought against their employers for allowing them to act in a dangerous manner.

4 Are officers allowed to trap oncoming drivers on the opposite side of the road?
JPSA: Yes they are.

5 Where can drivers, road users attach pictures to show these areas and sections of the roads?
JPSA: There are several groups on Facebook, etc. where people may vent their anger by posting photographs of what they believe is 'illegal speed-trapping'. I do however point out that very few of the speed trapping exercises that get posted in these groups are in fact illegal.

What are your thoughts on 'hidden' traffic cops trapping drivers? Email us and we'll publish your thoughts or use the Readers' Comments section below...

Driven by revenue generation

Dembovsky said: "Camera-based speed 'trapping' offers none of these opportunities but does offer the traffic authority for whom the traffic officer works, and private companies who supply the speed measuring equipment on a 'rental basis' the opportunity to generate limitless fines to post to people.

"This is the model that has generally been opted for by these traffic authorities and the municipalities under which they operate because traffic law enforcement in South Africa has come to be meaningless in promoting road safety and almost purely driven by revenue generation.

"Again, in my view, if camera speed trapping were to be banned in South Africa, one of two things would happen. Either traffic authorities would start doing the job that they are mandated to do, or they would go bankrupt. Unfortunately, while people continue to disobey speed limit en masse, transformation in traffic law enforcement is highly unlikely since deploying speed cameras is a practical guarantee of revenue."

WILL THIS HELP TO CURB ROAD DEATHS? A traffic cop hiding behind a road barrier to trap speeding drivers - will this curb road deaths in SA? Image: Arrive Alive

Dembovsky adds: "If members of the public are truly as disgusted as they say they are about traffic cops hiding in bushes and taking happy snaps of speedsters they would stop feeding the system and start obeying speed limits. It’s not that hard to do and everyone should give it a go."

Users respond:

Ron Brown said: Drivers who exceed the speed limit should be trapped by any means possible. Whether the officer is sitting in the shrubbery or out in the open if the person is speeding he must be punished. I think speeding fines should be a percentage either of your income or the value of your vehicle because so often is the wealthy with fancy cars that think they 'own' the roads.

Ramon Allen: What, if anything,forces a speed reading registered by a camera to be zero'd so that the previous - excessive - speed reading  will/cannot be used on the following vehicle(s) and effectively indicate that such following vehicle(s) were also speeding at an identical speed?

Joe Buirski said: Too many municipalities use speed trapping to generate revenue and feel feathers for road-safety or policing moving violations. There are several portable and unmanned speed traps that are moved around back roads in Cape Town – are these legal and how often is it calibrated?

Stellenbosch hides their unmanned cameras in yellow boxes along road verges and it looks just like a power utility box. I took a country-wide tour in 2014 and it is truly amazing how much effort goes into hiding or camouflaging these unmanned cameras.

Jacqui Benjamin said: SA motorists always complain about everything, from Metro Police to speed traps and road deaths. Fines are not taken seriously if they are not received on the spot. When you break the lawn you are a criminal. It starts with us. It starts with me. The blatant disregard for traffic rules/laws are a very good indication of the state of our nation as a reckless, lawless one. 

Errol Gertzen said: The only thing they can do is speed trap. You never find them at night or directing traffic during rush hour or at broken traffic lights. Utterly useless, but good at soliciting bribes.

Vaughan Mc Donald: I strongly oppose hidden traffic officials. In some overseas countries it's called entrapment and therefore not allowed... Although they have some purpose most of it is abused and therefore I feel their time should be used elsewhere more productively...

More news in SA

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Global road deaths: How does SA compare?
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