December 14 2010 at 08:30am
By Kristen van Schie, The Star
Picture : Itumeleng English
Loom of doom : The SAPS, EMPD, Metro Police and Gauteng Traffic police, join forces in a Super road block along the N3 just outside Heidelburg
It’s been a long year and you’re finally driving down that highway to the coast, trailer piled high, kids strapped in the back, “Are we there yet?” ringing in your ears… And then you see it looming ahead of you: a super roadblock.
Memories of speeding fines past come rushing up to meet you. Did you pay them all? What about those you didn’t know about? And your taxes!
Suddenly, images of overcrowded beaches are replaced with the thought of spending Christmas in a backwater prison, your children begging streetside to raise enough money for your bail.
But for all we’ve heard about these super roadblocks – national Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele said in Parliament that everyone from maintenance evaders to wanted fugitives would be nabbed – how much is just hype?
Let’s try and answer some of your questions here:
We spoke to Ashref Ismail, senior manager of enforcement co-ordination at the Road Traffic Management Corporation, and Howard Dembovsky, chairman of Justice Project SA and expert on traffic offences.
- The cops say they’re going to be looking at driver fitness. What does that mean?
Driver fitness means having the right licence for the right vehicle. And we’re not talking about a copy here – legally, you have to carry your original licence when driving or you will be fined.
The police will also be targeting drunk drivers. If you need to be reminded, the legal limit is one drink. If you get caught, it’s straight to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect R200. You’ll be taken to a testing centre where, within two hours, your will blood will be drawn or you’ll be given the Dräger test. And everybody should be wearing seatbelts.
- What condition should my car be in?
Remember that pre-trip inspection you did for your driver’s test way back when? Same thing. You need working headlamps, brake lights and windscreen wipers. Your brakes, hooter and indicators have to work, and your tyres can’t be worn.
- So I might just have a few unpaid fines to my name… do I have to worry?
Only if there’s a warrant of arrest out for you. Otherwise, all the cops can do is inform you of your fines and ask you to pay up, pretty please. There may be payment facilities right there at the roadblock, but nobody can force you to pay immediately.
- And if there is a warrant?
If you’ve put off paying and ignored your court summons for so long that a warrant has been issued, all you can really do is ask to see the warrant for proof. Keep in mind that just a copy will do. The cops don’t need an original, nor do they have to prove that a summons was issued. However, they can’t detain you while looking for a copy.
If they choose to arrest you, they must take you to the specific place of detention mentioned on the warrant.
Best way out? Pay your fines before going on holiday.
- Will I get into trouble for having drunk passengers in my car?
Technically, no. Only you have to be sober. But if your passengers are hampering your control of the car, they could be charged for obstructing your driving.
- What if I’m taking my dog along?
There’s no law saying you can’t have a pet in the car with you, and you can’t exactly buckle a cat down, but make sure any animals riding along are safe, secure and not obstructing your driving.
If nature conservation officials are on the scene, they’re more likely to be looking for endangered species than to check if your budgie’s been immunised.
We spoke to Madiri Matthews, chief director of the Home Affairs inspectorate, and Howard Dembovsky of Justice Project SA.
- Do I have to carry my ID book or passport at all times?
No – those were called the pass laws, and we did away with them years ago. Still, with Home Affairs officials checking for illegal immigrants at these roadblocks, it wouldn’t hurt to have certified copies of an ID nearby.
- What if the cops think I’m a foreigner and I don’t have identification on me?
If the police have reasonable suspicion that you’re an illegal immigrant, they can detain you for up to 48 hours. Technically, they’re supposed to be attempting to verify your status in the country during this time. But keep that “reasonable suspicion” in mind: they’re generally going to be looking at busloads coming over the border, not caravan-pulling family sedans.
- Can they take my fingerprints at a roadblock?
If biometric fingerprinting facilities are available and you don’t have an ID book, yes, officials may ask to fingerprint you. But this isn’t the same thing as being fingerprinted by the cops for a crime; it’s just to verify details, so play nice.
- Are the cops allowed to search me or my car?
The SAPS will be searching vehicles for weapons and drugs, as they are allowed to. But remember that only female officers can search women. Best to just co-operate and get it over with.
SARS AND COURTS
We spoke to attorney Anton Burger and Justice Project SA’s Dembovsky.
- Can I be arrested if I haven’t paid maintenance or if I submitted my tax returns late?
Generally, you can’t just be arrested unless there’s a warrant against you or you’re committing a criminal offence. If anything, you’ll be informed that you have unpaid fees and taxes, and will be asked to settle