Please note that since this book was last published in 1997 some of the laws that have been referenced may have changed. We
are doing our best to update the articles, however, it is advisable that you to consult an attorney before relying on any information contained herein.
Traffic on South Africa's roads is controlled by the uniformed
traffic police of the provincial administrations and local
authorities. Uniformed members of the South African Police
Service have the same powers as traffic officers. Their
directions and signals must be obeyed even when these conflict
with fixed signs or signals on the road. Limited duties are
assigned to traffic wardens and to 'casual' or temporary traffic
officers who supervise pedestrian crossings near schools.
How traffic is regulated
A traffic officer (or ordinary police officer) may divert or
direct traffic for any reason connected with the regulation of
traffic. It is an offence to disobey a directive - for example,
one which directs you to turn off a main road or to take a
If you are directed to proceed against a red light or to drive
the wrong way along a one-way street, you must do so, unless
there is an obvious danger that the officer has not seen. You
would not be prosecuted because a traffic officer's instruction
takes precedence over traffic signs and signals.
Although your right to use a road is confined basically to
travel, you are entitled to stop to pick up or set down
passengers and to load or unload goods. Specific roads such as
freeways are an exception. You should ask a police officer for
permission if you wish to stop or park in a restricted area. If
permission is granted, this overrides any restrictions that may
exist. Remember, however, that permission can be withdrawn and
you may be ordered to move on at any time. Casual traffic
officers and traffic wardens are not empowered to authorise
parking in a restricted area.
When a motor vehicle may be removed
Any motor vehicle that causes an obstruction to traffic or is
parked in contravention of restrictions may be towed away to an
official car pound. Similarly, any vehicle left unattended on a
public road for seven days within an urban area and 24 hours
outside an urban area may be regarded as abandoned and towed
Although vehicles are usually removed by the traffic
department, in smaller towns the work may be contracted to a
local garage and will be done under the supervision of a police
When a motorist can be stopped
A uniformed police officer has the right to stop any vehicle
at any time. Traffic wardens may not stop vehicles or otherwise
regulate traffic; the authority of casual traffic officers is
restricted to their duties at crossings. All motorists must stop
when the 'stop' sign is swung across the roadway by a scholar
In all cases where you have been lawfully stopped, you must
not drive on until you have been given permission to do so or
have received a signal indicating that you can proceed.
Questions a motorist must answer
If you are stopped by the police, you are obliged to give your
name and address, if required, and any other particulars
concerning your identity. An inspector of licences also has the
right to demand this information. You are entitled, however, to
ask such a person, whether in uniform or not, for proof of
A licence inspector, after having provided proof of identity,
may demand the licence authorising you to drive a vehicle as well
as information that may confirm your identity. If you are not the
owner of the vehicle, the inspector may demand information
leading to the identification of the owner. You can also be
instructed to produce any document relevant to the registration
or licensing of a motor vehicle.
PRODUCING A DRIVING LICENCE A police or
traffic officer or an inspector of licences may demand to see a
driving licence, which by law must be kept on the driver's person
or in the vehicle. In some cases, the licence must be shown to a
police officer at any police station within seven days.
ROADWORTHINESS A police or traffic officer
may stop a vehicle and, if he or she is licensed to drive that
class of vehicle, may drive it to ensure that it is roadworthy or
for any other purpose relating to the execution of a duty. An
inspector of licences may give notice in writing to the owner or
any person in charge of a vehicle to produce the vehicle for
inspection at a specified date and place.
Both a police officer and an examiner of vehicles may order
that the use of a vehicle considered unroadworthy be discontinued
immediately. They may, alternatively, specify that the vehicle
may only be used for a limited period or to reach a specific
destination. They are empowered to remove the clearance
certificate (licence disc) from the windscreen.
ORDER TO DISCONTINUE A police officer may
forbid a person who is mentally or physically incapable of
controlling a vehicle from driving. The officer may also arrange
for the safe parking or storage of the vehicle.
When police may search a vehicle
Any traffic officer or member of the South African Police
Service may search any vehicle without a warrant. In certain
circumstances an officer of the Department of Environmental
Affairs may also search a vehicle. (See wildlife; police, powers of the; fishing.) An officer who searches
a vehicle without a warrant should have reason to suspect it is
carrying some item that may be used as evidenceI in proving the
commission of a crime.
A motorist is normally entitled to stay in a vehicle, but
should step out if asked. Failure to do so could lead to a charge
of obstructing the police.
When a motorist can be arrested
Police have the power to arrest without a warrant any driver
- Is believed to be unfit to drive as a result of consuming
alcohol or drugs;
- Has been seen driving dangerously, recklessly or
- Is wilfully obstructing the roadway;
- Is suspected of driving while disqualified - that is,
while his or her licence is cancelled;
- Is suspected of having committed a crime or of being
about to commit a crime.
Police powers regarding people caught in the act of committing
an offence are wider than when the police act merely on the
suspicion of someone having committed a crime. (See police, powers of the.)
Ordinary citizens must assist a peace
officer to make an arrest
if they are requested to do so. A peace officer who requires the
use of a motor vehicle to make an arrest is empowered to
commandeer one. The owner has the right to claim compensation for
any damage caused, as well as for the use of the vehicle, from
the employer of the officer who commandeered it, such as a
provincial administration or local authority.
Powers of traffic wardens
Traffic wardens are not vested with the peace officer's powers
of arrest. Like any other private individual, however, they may
make a citizen's arrest. (See arrest.)
Their duty is to prevent the infringement of parking regulations,
and to issue spot-fine tickets where vehicles are illegally
parked. Under normal circumstances, traffic wardens do not have
the authority to act as traffic controllers.