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Traffic fines: to pay or not to pay?

Pay your traffic fines - don't delay! (Image: fines4u.co.za)

MBOMBELA – “Why should I pay my traffic fine? I’ll just say that I never received it.”. This is what you say when you discover a summons pinned to your front door.

What you have forgotten, is that the notice was served by traffic authorities and that records are kept of the fact that notices had been served. This record is backed up electronically and the procedure that is provided for in the Criminal Procedure Act continues. This must be adhered to by traffic officials otherwise the administrative legality thereof may be disputed.

Local resident Zulu Cason had an encounter with one of Mpumalanga’s new Nyamsoro vans that track down drivers with outstanding fines via a number-plate registration system.
“I was stopped next to the road and informed that I have unpaid traffic fines, generated by a speed camera erected on the N4 in the Karino area.  These were apparently posted to me. I never received a single fine in my postbox. I was fined R300 for not attending traffic court although I was not aware of these being issued in my name. I personally went to the traffic-control offices in Van Rensburg Street and requested copies thereof, when some Section 341 notices were issued to me.”

Cason’s query led to an investigation into the different steps in the prosecution process followed when a fine was issued. The procedure started with the driver allegedly contravening road-traffic regulations. A good example was speeding, which led to the issuing of a fine. When a traffic officer attended to a handheld speed-measuring camera and stopped the driver in person, a speeding ticket was usually written on the spot. In cases such as a lone-standing camera, a notice would be sent to the registered driver.  The act made provision for the issuing of this Section 341 notice within 30 days of the alleged contravention via regular post to the guity person. It provides a time frame during which the fine may be paid, usually 60 days.

The recipient may elect to pay the fine. Alternatively, a letter may be sent to the traffic authority to request a reduction or scrapping. If the person to whom the notice was sent, failed to react in either of the above-mentioned ways, a criminal summons in terms of Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Act must be served. This summons should contain two dates, a court date and an earlier date, before which the accused may elect to pay an “admission of guilt” fine to avoid a court appearance.

Many make the mistake of signing this attractive alternative without realising that it will leave them with a criminal record. The effects of having a criminal record are far-reaching and include that applications for travel visas will be considered negatively and seeking employment will be difficult. Some careers and study fields do not allow people with criminal records, which meant that you will be dismissed with immediate effect. The blemish of a criminal record can only be removed 10 years after it had been incurred.
Where the accused elect not to pay the admission of guilt fine, he/she has three options. The payment of the fine will avoid a court appearance. The accused may also approach the public prosecutor with a representation. The third option entails appearing on the court date and defending the case against the accused.
Once again, doing nothing is the worst way of handling the situation. If the alleged traffic-rule infringer did not turn up for the court appearance, he/she would be held in contempt of court and another fine would be added to the list against him. In practice, a warrant of his/her arrest was also issued at this stage. A scenario similar to that of Cason may, in a worst-case scenario, only come to the attention of the accused at this point. This will only apply if none of the previous notices have reached the accused and only a warrant of arrest could pinpoint him/her.
When the accused had been arrested and brought to court, he would be given another chance to pay all the amounts outstanding. Upon payment, he may be released.
Howard Dembowsky is the national chairman of Justice Project South Africa, a non-profit association providing legal advice to those in predicaments. He advises drivers to adopt a “rather safe than sorry” approach if they find themselves being confronted by traffic authorities.
All in all, it is the wisest to adhere to the prescribed prosecution procedure and make use of the chances that you have been offered to come forth with your motivation for a reduction of the fine. Ignoring fines will only get you in trouble.

 

Indebted?  Read more on the interest levied on debt here.

  AUTHOR
Helene Eloff
Court Reporter

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