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You and Your Rights

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You and Your Rights

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 Officers

The powers of a traffic police officer

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 particular lane.

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 Remember, however, that permission can be withdrawn and you may be ordered to move on at any time.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 away.

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 officer.

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 patrol.

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 identify.

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 who:

  • Is believed to be unfit to drive as a result of consuming alcohol or drugs;
  • Has been seen driving dangerously, recklessly or carelessly;
  • 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.

Disclaimer :: You and Your Rights
Although we have gone to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this database, it is important to remember that laws, government departments, interest and taxation rates are constantly changing. If you have a particularly difficult problem you are advised to consult a qualified legal authority. The publishers, editors and their representatives cannot accept responsibility for any act or omission arising from consulting the information contained herein.
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General Disclaimer: The content of Legal City does not constitute legal, tax or financial advice, nor does it necessarily reflect the views of our management, staff, shareholders, associates, contributors, authors or suppliers. Even though every endeavour has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information we cannot be held responsible for any errors and/or omissions. By using this web site you agree to accept and abide by our terms and conditions.
This web site and all its content is copyright © 2000-2014, Legal City CC • Web site managed with qPortal Content Management v 4.0.0 • This page loaded on October 31, 2014 at 9:51:41 pm, SA Standard Time.