Beware unlawful arrests if you are stopped by cops over the holidays – Expert

South Africans should be aware that the Road Traffic Management Agency (RTMC)’s recent threat to arrest those driving during the December holidays for unpaid traffic fines is unlawful, according to Justice Project South Africa (JPSA).

JPSA has condemned the RTMC’s recent statement that motorists will be stopped if they have outstanding traffic fines.

“The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) advises all motorists to check if they have any outstanding traffic fines before embarking on their festive journeys,” the RTMC said earlier this week.

“Traffic officers are being deployed on all major routes and those found with outstanding traffic fines will not be allowed to proceed.”

JPSA has noted these statements with concern, stating that they display an intention to flout the law and violate the Constitution.

“There is no provision in any law that authorises traffic officers to prevent motorists from proceeding with their journey if they are found to have outstanding traffic fines,” JPSA said.

“A traffic fine is not a warrant of arrest and should not be regarded as one.”

Unlawful arrests and extortion

The organisation noted that an arrest warrant is issued by a judicial officer if a person has been summoned to court and has failed to appear.

A traffic fine, on the other hand, is an allegation of wrongdoing and is not an invoice or tax.

The RTMC’s threat of preventing drivers from proceeding with their journey due to outstanding traffic fines would constitute an unlawful arrest, JPSA said.

Additionally, forcing motorists to pay a fine or fines under threat of formal arrest would constitute extortion, it added.

“As much as I detest having to continually repeat myself, it is high time that traffic law enforcement officials started obeying the provisions of the law that apply to them,” said JPSA Chairperson Howard Dembovsky.

“The RTMC is too fond of threatening motorists with things that are not provided for in law.”

Continued threats

He said that for many years, the RTMC has threatened motorists who are alleged to be driving under the influence of alcohol with a minimum of seven days in jail before being allowed to make a bail application.

There is no such provision in the law that authorises this and it is unlikely that there ever will be, Dembovsky noted.

“Instead of inciting unlawful behaviour by traffic officers, the RTMC should be acting responsibly, by concentrating on initiatives that promote road safety and save lives, where reckless drivers are stopped before they crash into other road users,” Dembovsky said.

“While hidden speed cameras are super money-spinners for greedy municipalities and roadblocks can detect unroadworthy vehicles, together with those that have unpaid traffic fines, neither tackle the wanton reckless behaviour that plays itself out on our roads every day.”

“Only professional, visible and active policing can do that,” he said.

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Beware unlawful arrests if you are stopped by cops over the holidays – Expert