No escape from cellphone fine

The City of Cape Town has warned that excuses will not tolerated from drivers caught with cellphones. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
The City of Cape Town has warned that excuses will not tolerated from drivers caught with cellphones. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Making excuses won't save you if you are caught with a cellphone behind the wheel, the City of Cape Town has warned.

The city has revealed that many drivers make excuses to avoid taking responsibility when caught with mobile devices.

"Some of the more common excuses offered for using mobile devices while driving include drivers phoning home to let their loved ones know they are running late and drivers trying to complete last-minute business deals or to answer office queries after they have physically left the workplace," mayoral committee member for Safety and Security, JP Smith told Fin24.

The city is ramping up its programme to enforce bylaws regarding the use of mobile devices while behind the wheel and has confiscated thousands of cellphones from drivers.

Cape Town has impounded a total of 9 465 cellphones in the programme launched in 2012 and around 5 283 remain unclaimed.

Distracted drivers

Most of the cellphone impoundments occur on major routes into the CBD.

"What we have noticed is that there is a particular increase in cellphone offences and impoundments between midday and the afternoon peak periods. The highest number of phones have been impounded in the greater Cape Town Central Business District area - in particular along the major routes leading in and out of the city, including Nelson Mandela Boulevard and FW De Klerk Boulevard," said Smith.

The US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data estimates that up to 27% of fatal crashes involving drivers under 30 involve distraction, translating to about 660 000 drivers on their phones during daylight hours.

Cellphone distraction is a problem for drivers and pedestrians. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

But some studies suggest that pedestrians who are distracted also pose a risk to themselves and road users.

According to a 2010 publication by Ohio State University, more than 1 500 people were treated for injuries sustained while walking and engrossed in cellphone applications.

To cope with the number of devices in storage, the City is investigating holding an auction to sell them, but that process would have to respect data and privacy laws.

"This will depend on the appointment of the service provider to remove data from the impounded handsets, which is dependent on the City of Cape Town’s Supply Chain Management processes," Smith said.

Data rights

According to South African legislation, City officials will have to get a court order to examine cellphones.

"In terms of Rica, the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act, a police officer must obtain a court order in order to intercept cellphone messages or get data from someone's phone," specialist technology attorney Russel Luck told Fin24.

He also specified how a sale procedure might work.

"If police were going to sell the cellphones in execution, this would most likely be done by the sheriff of the court through the Uniform Rules of Court. I don't know of any cases where cellphones have been confiscated (and sold) but this principle would apply to all property attached for sales in execution."

The Protection of Personal Information Act (Popi) enshrines rights regarding the processing of personal information that would imply that Cape Town will be obliged to carefully check who the phones are sold to, as well as ensure complete deletion of any personal data.

"A data subject has the right to have his, her or its personal information processed in accordance with the conditions for the lawful processing of personal information as referred to in Chapter 3," Popi says in part.

It specifically adds that people have the right not to have personal data processed for the purposes of "unsolicited electronic communications".

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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