Is your GPS device legal in SA?

Cape Town - The rise of GPS devices and real-time navigation makes driving to your destination easier, but modern technology could put you on the wrong side of traffic law.

GPS devices have advanced significantly from being a glorified map to devices that constantly update the traffic situation and inform their owners of any potential problems.

"When there is a traffic jam we can capture it. Legally, that is in line with what is allowed. If there is ever a change in legislation, where we're not allowed to produce certain stuff, then we will be able to add that technology if needed," Daan Henderickx, country manager for TomTom told Fin24.

However, while the devices do not specifically state the location of police roadblocks, they are able to alert drivers to traffic jams which may be the result of police action.

"Informing motorists of a police roadblock is a criminal offence as it is seen as obstructing the police in the execution of their lawful duties. One would assume that a software program informing road users of roadblocks would be seen as an obstruction of the police's duties," said Anel de Bruyn, an attorney at Myburgh Attorneys in Cape Town.

Speed cameras

There have been calls to arrest people who post specific information about police activity on social media such as Facebook or Twitter.

However, Henderickx is convinced that the company's devices are within the law because they don't specifically indicate roadblocks.

He said that the company was only able to report traffic incidents when its devices were affected by traffic delays.

"The unique thing about TomTom technology is that we work with source data and the key thing is that when an incident happens we need to have one of those sources in that jam."

"At the moment we can see it and we can report a traffic jam whenever it pops up for whatever reason, and as far as I know that is in line with what legislation allows us to do," Henderickx added.

Given the rise of smartphones, are GPS devices relevant? Check out what Henderickx had to say in our video:

But the GPS devices also report speed cameras. This is legal under South African law, though it could be argued that speed cameras and police roadblocks are both law enforcement activities.

"It is however important to note that GPS devices alert road users when approaching speed cameras as confirmed on their respective websites. Recent Facebook pages also notifies members of the public of speed cameras," said De Bruyn.

Legal opinion

In SA, the law is not simply black and white.

"Alerting another motorist of the existence of a speed trap has been held to have defeated the ends of justice (S v Naidoo, 1977)," said Anneke Meiring, senior associate in the TMT department at ENSafrica.

"In a subsequent case (S v Prerera, 1978) the court held that where the person alerting another motorist had no reason to believe that the other motorist was not complying with the road rules, or that the other motorist had any intention of doing so, that person would not be committing the offence of attempting to defeat the ends of justice," she added.

Meiring argued that the 1978 case had more relevance in SA.

"These two decisions aren't reconcilable and we share the view that the latter should be followed. One is effectively reminding others to obey the law."

Internationally, Switzerland and France have banned devices from pin-pointing speed cameras and Spain and Germany prohibit radar detectors, commonly used by law enforcement officials.

TomTom reached a compromise with French authorities on the ban, and Henderickx said that the company was committed to operating within the confines of the law.

"If that would be the case and it turns out that our technology is not in line with what legislation is prescribing, then we will have to look at that, but I think that at the moment we are in line."

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