Traffic traps in the Lowveld: Are they legal?

A speeding sign and camera on the R40.

ROCKY DRIFT – In the past few months, speed signs were erected next to the R40 between Mbombela and White River.

A speeding sign and camera.

The signs limit road users to travelling no faster than 60 kilometres per hour. Traffic officials and speed-regulating equipment was spotted in the area. Lowvelder enquired about the legalities involved.

• What are the legal requirements for putting up a speed sign?

According to Mr Howard Dembovsky, national chairman of Justice Project South Africa, provincial authorities may erect speed signs when and where they want to.

“Doing so was previously regulated by ordinances, which were repealed. There are now no prescribed requirements,” he said. “In the Delmas area, for example, there is a spot where signs dictate that two different speed limits apply on either side of the road,” he said. Yet there are no ordinances in terms of which can be reversed.

• Which requirements must be met before a driver can be held accountable for exceeding a speed limit?

According to Dembovsky, the Road Traffic Signs Manual covers procedural aspects in such instances. It dictates that no speed camera can be put up in front of the sign it seeks to regulate.

Also read: Do I have to pay my speeding fine?

“No camera may be erected within 300 metres of the sign. Traffic officials or cameras must be positioned at least 300 metres away. As cameras work with laser and radar, the distance between the camera and whomever it captures must be taken into consideration,” he emphasised. If the radar or laser travels less than 300 metres before reaching the vehicle it captures, prosecuting the driver for speeding will be unlawful.

• What can a driver do if he has been caught on camera in the presence of a traffic official?

Drivers may approach traffic officials on the scene and confirm which speed limit they had contravened. “It might be that an official is seated next to a 60-kilometres- per-hour sign, but catching speedsters in accordance with another sign further away,” Dembovsky warned.

Traffic officials may be required to identify themselves and prove their capacity. If a driver feels he was fined unfairly, the duty rests on the driver to make a so-called presentation to the relevant traffic department explaining why.

It must be submitted to the department at least two weeks before the payment date of the ticket.

• When may an unattended camera be used for speed law enforcement?

According to Mr Simon du Plessis, project director at Medaco, a service provider which administers traffic fines on a provincial level, different cameras have different legal requirements. The hand-held ProLaser camera must be operated by a traffic official.

“It is important for drivers to take note that no warning sign needs to be put up where speed is monitored with these devices,” he said. The operator must write a speed ticket on the spot which instructs the driver to pay a specific fine or to go to court on a specific date.

The Trucam is a slightly larger camera propped on a tripod. It is capable of functioning on its own. Where this camera is used, signs should warn drivers that a camera is watching them. Warnings should be positioned on both sides of the road.

Radar cameras are connected to a laptop. According to Du Plessis, software installed on the laptop prohibits the use of a radar camera that does not adhere to the technical requirements proclaimed by law. This camera does not have to be manned by an operator, but a sign must warn drivers of its presence.

• What can a driver do if fined unfairly and no traffic official was on the scene?

The duty rests on the driver to make a presentation to the relevant traffic department explaining why he feels that way. It must be submitted to the department two weeks before the payment date of the ticket.

Also read: Everything you must know about speeding fines and cameras

Two other problem spots on this road are the intersection between the R40 and the road leading to the University of Mpumalanga. Following complaints about road safety at the intersection, City of Mbombela spokesman, Mr Joseph Ngala, confirmed that an elevated circle was in the pipeline. “A contractor will be appointed soon,” he said.

The R40 between Mbombela and White River was identified as a problem area.

Ngala said the provincial Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport (DPWRT) was mandated to address issues at the turn-off between the R40 and the Plaston Road leading to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport.

“A traffic light cannot be erected due to the slope of the adjacent roads,” Ngala explained. DPWRT did not comment at the time of going to press.

Helene Eloff
Legal Adviser & Journalist

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