Forcing people to pay outstanding fines under threat of arrest amounts to extortion, Justice Project SA's Howard Dembovsky said.
“The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) advises all motorists to check if they have any outstanding traffic fines before embarking on their festive journeys,” a paragraph in the statement read.
It went on to say that traffic officers were “being deployed on all major routes and those found with outstanding traffic fines will not be allowed to proceed”.
However, Justice Project South Africa chair Howard Dembovsky noted on Friday there was “no provision in any law that authorises traffic officers to prevent motorists from proceeding on a journey if they are found to have outstanding traffic fines”.
Similarly, the Automobile Association (AA) blasted the RTMC yesterday, saying the statement was “outrageous and amounts to fearmongering among South African road users”.
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The AA called for the RTMC to “immediately retract the statement and apologise to motorists for creating a false impression of the RTMC’s law enforcement capability”.
“A traffic fine is not a warrant of arrest and should not be regarded as one,” Dembovsky said. “An arrest warrant is issued by a judicial officer if a person has been summoned to court and has failed to appear.”
The Citizen asked RTMC spokesman Simon Zwane via WhatsApp what legislation allowed traffic officers to prevent motorists with outstanding traffic fines from continuing a trip.
He responded: “I said people should check if they don’t have warrants of arrests against their name. Warrants issued in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA).
“Many parts of the country are using section 56 notices of the CPA to issue traffic fines and warrants are issued for people who fail to pay and fail to appear in court. It is not an Aarto process.”
But, as pointed out to Zwane, a warrant of arrest is very different from an ordinary traffic fine, which has yet to be paid.
“It’s warrants issued against unpaid traffic fines and failure to appear in court on the date stated on the traffic notice issued,” he said. “So we were referring to the fines that have reached the stage where a warrant has been issued.”
But this was not referred to in the statement and many motorists have had the misfortune of meeting a traffic official with the “I am the law” mindset.
Dembovsky said this media release would encourage traffic officers to break the law.
“It is the traffic official who will be sued and not the RTMC. It would be nice if the RTMC was sued for coming up with these ridiculous threats.”
Dembovsky said a traffic fine was an allegation of wrongdoing and was not an invoice or a “tax”.
“Preventing anyone from proceeding on a journey on the strength of an outstanding traffic fine constituted de facto unlawful arrest. Forcing such persons to pay a fine under threat of formal arrest constitutes extortion.”
Dembovsky added that the RTMC had “for many years now” threatened motorists 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.”
The AA was concerned officers would use the above statement to “apply traffic law as they see fit”.
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