After the shocking increase of 14% in the number of road fatalities this Christmas season to 1755, the Department of Transport is proposing to re-classify all road traffic offences to Schedule 5 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the same as murder and rape, thus making it more difficult for people to get bail. In effect by delaying the granting of bail by up to a week, the alleged guilty parties are de facto being punished. Firstly is this constitutional and secondly will this amendment actually improve driving behaviour? What unintended consequences will ensue?
This amendment will probably pass muster in the Constitutional Court if these offences are reclassified but that does not make them appropriate. Perhaps it is wishful thinking but perhaps this action will run afoul of our human rights in that the apprehended person is penalised irrespective of whether they are guilty or not.
That is not to say that I am not in favour of harsher penalties per se but that I am opposed to is their imposition BEFORE guilt is established. If not, punishment will be meted out by the law enforcement officials as opposed to the judiciary.
Apart from this separation of duties, my concerns that this method of punishment will be abused will not readily be allayed. Already the fact that one can be held in custody in a police cell over the weekend is being abused as a method of extorting bribes from timid motorists.
I have a case in point. A friend of mine was travelling on the infamous Moloto Road north of Pretoria when he was stopped at a speed trap. As he is aware of the frequency of trapping on this road, he that he would never exceed the speed limit, he set his cruise control.
Need I even state that he was stopped for excessive speeding. The alleged speed was so high that he would have to be arrested UNLESS he paid a bribe. Facing a weekend in a holding cell or freedom, he reluctantly paid the bribe.
Imagine that this offense is now a schedule 5 where a minimum of 5 days will be spent in some dank, uncomfortable cell, would this not become a money-making racket for rogue elements in the traffic authorities? In today’s Star newspaper, Denis Beckett claims that the going rate to make a case docket “disappear” is R 2000.
Furthermore amongst the Statistics released by Dipuo Peters was the fact that 6000 motorists were arrested for drunk driving. Upon closer examination what would be the conviction rate and what are the reasons for non-conviction? Bribes, loss of dockets, incorrect procedures applied or simply not processing the matter. Even as a non-betting man, I would be surprised if even 1000 drunk drivers were ultimately convicted.
Let me take my son’s case. His car was hit by a drunk driver on the corner of our road. With my own eyes, it was blatantly obvious that the culpable driver was intoxicated. He was barely able to even stand let alone walk. It took two policemen to half carry him to their vehicle. In spite of his obvious inebriation, this driver was never prosecuted.
What was the reason? Incompetence or bribery? Or both?
I am firmly of the belief that without the rigorous anti-corruption measures in place raising the bar as regards the penalties and punishments, the ultimate consequence will merely be to raise the price of the bribes.
That is the status quo in South Africa at present.