traffic laws

H Petrick, Durbanville

It is clear that JP Smith and his team are taking the freedom of motorists to the ultimate zero level (“Fury as council clamps down on fine dodgers,” Northern News, March 10).

They are turning the Western Cape into a police state, like Australia, and honestly the only way to get a more objective system is through political intervention.

With the upcoming elections, we all need to be asking our politicians how they will ensure more freedom from unnecessary traffic legislation, and less punitive measures for minor offences, decriminalisation and scrapping of offences of little consequence.

The problem is that legislation is discriminating against many classes of vehicles in the process of trying to control high-risk vehicles.

The same for drivers. We are not all stupid and inexperienced, but legislation hints that we are just that, and no discretion is allowed.

The current government has started to believe its own marketing slogans as factual.

Go and drive in the Middle East and see how few accidents happen in a totally chaotic traffic environment, or how few accidents happen at 300 km/* in Germany.

As long as legislation drives behaviour and not your own conviction and experience, there will be little respect.

Legislation should be a guideline, a proposal of good practice, nothing more.

So politics it is, and I still want to see whether the voters approve of the current punitive system.

It could even be against the constitution of South Africa.

It needs to be checked.

Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith responds:

Traffic fines are not opportunistic or malicious.

They serve as a penalty for someone who has transgressed the Road Traffic Act, which is the national code that determines both safe and courteous driving behaviour to make sure that people are safe on our roads and that everybody does not have to suffer constant road rage because of discourteous drivers on the road.

The fine is the only way to hold a person accountable and ensure that there is a penalty for their dangerous driving behaviour.

Or at least it would be, if everybody complied with the Road Traffic Act and paid their fines.

Sadly, more and more South Africans ignore the road regulations, and this reflects in our horrific road death toll – among the highest in the world.

The fact that many people get away without paying their fines means people who offend these regulations designed to ensure safe road use are never compelled to face the consequences of their actions and therefore do not bother to change their behaviour.

These scofflaws are the true parasites and play games with the lives of others and treat the criminal justice system with contempt.

This attitude is part of a disease which affects South Africa – a disease which says that nobody should be held accountable for anything – it starts with our state president and trickles down to the motorist who swears at the traffic officer who pulls him over for ignoring a stop street or speaking on his cellphone while driving (which is stastistically more dangerous than drunk driving), usually demanding that the officer “go catch some real criminal like a murderer or rapist”.

What such drivers forget is that until the City and the Western Cape Government started our joint Safely Home Campaign and implemented a variety of new road safety and enforcement startegies, we were seeing as many people killed on our roads as we see killed through violent crime – deaths which could have been avoided if the drivers had complied with the road traffic regulations.

This same attitude towards road traffic regulations also lies at the heart of the argument that the City pursues traffic offences for the purposes of revenue.

This is absolute nonsense.

The money paid from fines is neglible as a precentage of the City’s budget.

None of the money from traffic fines benefits or comes back to the safety and security directorate, the traffic department or the individual traffic officers. There are no Christmas bonuses, quotasand no commission is paid to officers.

The only performance indicator we are measured by is whether there are fewer or more road deaths and whether people are more or less satisfied with how people drive on the roads, as measured anually in the satisfaction survey done among the public.

The City will continue to pursue our road safety strategies, which have resulted in the best levels of traffic enforcement in South Africa, the highest traffic fine payment rate and therefore also the lowest road mortality rates.

Our traffic officers are not hidden behind pillars and under camouflage netting.

Our cameras are painted bright yellow and the speed and other enforcement is strictly based on where the accidents occur and in response to complaints from the public.

The Traffic Review Committee (which the politicians do not control) uses the traffic accident statistics to ensure that we direct our enforcement efforts to the right places and that, unlike Johannesburg, we do not simply do enforement where the soft targets who are likely to pay their fines are.

The agreement between the City and the sheriffs of the court, will ensure that those who have been given traffic fines and don’t pay them (the scofflaws) are pursued and brought to justice.

This will ensure that they don’t continue to offend so that we do not need to address their road traffic offences over and over again and so that we do not need to continue to employ more and more traffic officers to deal with the same habitiual offenders at the expense of the ratepayers.

For the record, any money derived from this will go towards paying the contempt of court fine to the Department of Justice and to the sheriffs in payment for their work.

The City of Cape Town will get very little from this agreement and this is further proof that road safety, and not revenue, drives our strategies.