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National Road Traffic

The word ‘carnage’ – meaning great slaughter – must feature in the daily media more at Christmas and at Easter than any other time. If we take road traffic out of it, given the religious significance of these periods, this is somewhat ironic but of course we can’t take road traffic out of it. We live in the country where, despite some of the best roadways in the world, fatalities due to road accidents are the highest in the world.

In 2013, South Africa had 21 316 road fatalities. That placed it 16th in the entire universe. The average fatality rate was 17,4 per 100 000 people, and we outdid ourselves at 25,1 per 100 000 inhabitants: higher than Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Mexico, Tanzania and Vietnam.1

Whilst there is significant room for improvement, let’s not be too critical: after all, road injury is the 9th biggest killer worldwide.2 Indeed, by far we are not the worst. In Africa, we trail behind Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gamera, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe in death rates per 100 000 inhabitants. Yet, if one considers that we have the best roads system in Africa, amongst the most highly educated societies, and amongst the most advanced economies – well, things stay looking not too good.

The National Road Traffic Act 19963 is designed to cater for all road traffic matters: registration and licencing of vehicles and manufacturers; driver fitness and licensing; vehicle road worthiness; road safety; dangerous cargo; reckless and intoxicated driving; and more. As to be expected, there are a lot of criminal provisions in the Act. The Act also keeps in force certain provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1989.

The buck stops with the Minister of Transport when it comes to administration of the Act, although day-to-day enforcement is delegated all the way down to the ubiquitous traffic officers. Unfortunately, the Act is not a model of clarity and it appears that its critics may have some justification. Anyway, here goes…

A. General

The Act provides that:

any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of this Act or with any direction, condition, demand, determination, requirement, term or request thereunder, shall be guilty of an offence.4

This is, clearly, an extremely wide provision and it is beyond the scope of this book to attempt to fathom out what on earth might all be implicated – and whether everything is really intended. For example, the section means it is a criminal offence to drive a vehicle on a public road without reasonable consideration for any other person using the road.5 Seriously? Here, in South Africa, that is a crime? Well, it sure is.

Anyway, there are specified a great number of provisions, relating to different penalties6 for contravention of this broad provision. These are covered in specifically identified sections below. In what follows now is a summation of what is not covered by the specified provisions,7 yet is likely criminalised by this general provision.

Officials, inspectors and examiners

Vehicle registration

Driver’s licenses

Driving instructors

Operating vehicles, and dangerous goods

Road traffic signs

Garages and panelbeaters

False information

B. Authorised officers52

  1. It is a crime to pretend to be, or to act in any way that is likely to give the impression that you are an authorised officer.53

  2. You commit a crime if you conspire54 with, or try to induce an authorised officer not to carry out his duty, or to act contrary to his duty.55

C. Roadworthiness

  1. It is a crime to operate a motor vehicle on a public road if it is not in a roadworthy condition56 — that is, if it does not comply with the provisions of the Act, and is not in a fit condition.57 (Given the next clause, this seems to indicate that it is an offence even if you have a certificate of roadworthiness, but your car is not in a fit condition to be on the road.)

  2. It is an offence to operate a vehicle on a public road if the requirements for a certificate of roadworthiness have not been complied with.58

  3. It is also an offence not to comply with the conditions of the certificate of roadworthiness.59

  4. If a vehicle is not roadworthy, any traffic officer or vehicle examiner can serve on the driver, owner, or operator a notice directing that:

    • it shall not be operated on a public road or
    • it shall only be operated under specific conditions.
    • it is an offence to disregard such notice.60

D. Number plates, licences and engine numbers

  1. It is an offence to use, display or manufacture any number plate which does not comply with the prescribed specifications.61

  2. If you falsify or counterfeit or (with intent to deceive) replace, alter, deface or mutilate, or add anything to a licence number or mark issued by a competent authority outside of the Republic you commit a crime.62

  3. If you are in possession of a licence number or licence mark which has been falsified or counterfeited or so replaced, altered, defaced or mutilated or to which anything has been so added, you commit a criminal offence.63

  4. It is an offence to:
    • falsify or counterfeit or (with intent to deceive) replace, alter, deface or mutilate or add anything to a certificate, licence or other document issued or recognised under the Act; or64
    • be in possession of such certificate, licence or other document.65
  5. If you produce a document for the purposes of the Act which differs in format or in content from the document as prescribed, you commit an offence.66

  6. Any person who uses a certificate, licence or other document in terms of the Act and of which he is not the holder commits a crime.67

  7. Any person who permits a certificate, licence or other document to be used by any other person commits an offence.68

  8. It is a criminal offence to falsify, replace, alter, deface, mutilate, add anything to, or remove anything from, or in any other way tamper with the engine number or the chassis number of a motor vehicle if your intention is to deceive.69

  9. Similarly, you commit a crime if, without lawful cause you are in possession of a motor vehicle of which the engine number or the chassis number has been falsified, etc.70

E. Operating specifically classified vehicles

Certain classes of vehicle require ‘operator fitness’ – in short, the operator must be specifically licensed. The Act71 says that the owner is the operator, but this is defined as being the person responsible for the use of the vehicle, and who has been registered as the operator.72

NOTE: Whenever any manager, agent or employee of an operator commits an act which, if done by the operator would be an offence, then it is deemed that the operator committed the offence. The manager, agent or employee also commits an offence.73

The classes of vehicle where the operator has to be registered are:

There are certain exceptions,76 but several offences are created in respect of this setup.

  1. The operator of a motor vehicle must (and commits an offence if he fails to) notify the particular registering authority77 within seven days of any change in the circumstances in relation to his registration as the operator of such vehicle.78

  2. The operator must also return the operator card in respect of that motor vehicle to that registering authority, and contravenes the Act if he fails to do so.79

  3. The operator must also:
    • keep safe and protect from theft an operator card issued to him;
    • notify the nearest police station within 24 hours, and the registering authority where he is ordinarily resident within seven days, after becoming aware.8081
  4. If he does not exercise proper control over the driver of such motor vehicle, particularly to ensure compliance with all the relevant provisions of the Act, including regarding:
    • the professional driving permit; 82 and
    • the loading of such vehicle,

    he commits an offence.83

  5. There is also an offence created if the operator fails to ensure that such motor vehicle complies with fitness requirements – the roadworthy certification, basically.84

  6. If dangerous goods or substances are conveyed, the operator must ensure that all requirements in the Act and any other law are complied with, and commits an offence if he fails to do so.85

  7. In short, it is a criminal offence if the operator does not conduct his operations with due care to the safety of the public,86 and take all reasonable measures to ensure that such motor vehicle is operated on a public road in compliance with the provisions for the loading and transportation of goods as prescribed by or under the Act.87

F. Driving under the influence

The connection between alcohol and road accidents is well documented and needs no proof.88 Regrettably, we have the mechanisms to reduce the carnage caused by overconsumption, but not their enforcement.

  1. It is a criminal offence to drive a vehicle on a public road while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect.89

  2. It is a criminal offence to occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle, the engine of which is running, while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect.90

  3. If you drive on a public road while the concentration of alcohol in a specimen taken of your blood is 0,05 gram per 100 millilitre,91 or more, you commit an offence.92

  4. If you occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle, the engine of which is running, while the concentration of alcohol in a specimen taken of your blood is 0,05 gram per 100 millilitre, or more, you commit an offence.93

  5. However, if you are what is referred to as a ‘professional driver’ – i.e. driving one of those specially classified vehicles (see section E above), then you may not have even 0,02 gram of alcohol per 100 millilitre of blood.94

  6. It is also a criminal offence just to sit in the driver’s seat of one of the classified types of vehicle, while the engine is running, if your alcohol level is 0,02 gram (or more) per 100 millilitre of blood.95

  7. It gets more tricky, and does not depend only on alcohol levels in blood. Breathalysers also play their part. If you drive a vehicle on a public road and a specimen of your breath shows 0,24 milligram of alcohol per litre (of breath) it is an offence.96

  8. You also commit an offence when, in this condition, you occupy the driver’s seat when the engine is running.97

  9. You may not drive one of the classified vehicles (see section E above) if your breath specimen is just 0,10 milligram of alcohol per litre (of exhaled breath). If it does, you commit an offence.98

  10. It is also a criminal offence just to sit in the driver’s seat of one of the classified types of vehicle, while the engine is running, if your alcohol level is 0.10 milligrams of alcohol per litre (of exhaled breath). If it does, you commit an offence.99

  11. It is, by the way, an offence to refuse that a specimen of your blood, or your breath be taken.100

G. Speeding

The way the speed limit works is this. There is a general speed limit, which means that the Minister has prescribed101 a speed limit for:

However, road traffic signs may indicate other speed limits and in which case these apply. Otherwise, the general limits apply; so just because there is no signage does not mean there is no limit, or that the limit is 120 kilometres per hour.

The Minister can also prescribe speed limits for certain of the classified vehicles referred to in section E above.

  1. It is an offence to drive a vehicle on a public road at a speed faster than the limit that applies in respect of that road.102

H. Reckless Driving

  1. It is a crime to drive a vehicle recklessly103 or negligently on a public road.104

I. Accidents

  1. If you are the driver involved in an accident, or contributor to an accident, in which:
    • any person is killer or injured; or
    • there is damage to property, including a vehicle or animal,

    there are certain things you must do. They are the following, and you commit a crime by no doing them:

    • immediately stop the vehicle;105
    • ascertain the nature and extent of any injury sustained by any person;106
    • if a person is injured, render such assistance to the injured person as you may be capable of rendering;107
    • ascertain the nature and extent of any damage sustained;108
    • if required to do so by any person (who has reasonable grounds for so requiring) give your name and address, the name and address of the owner of your vehicle and the licence number thereof;109 ss- if you have not already reported the accident to a police or traffic officer at the scene of the accident (and unless you are incapable of doing so by reason of injuries sustained in the accident) report the accident at a police station or any office set aside for use by a traffic officer. In the case where a person is killed or injured, this must happen with 24 hours, and in any other case on the first working day after the accident.110
    • do not (except if administered or instructed by a medical practitioner in the case of injury or shock) take any intoxicating liquor or drug having a narcotic effect unless you have already reported the accident and have been examined by a medical practitioner if required by a traffic officer.111
  2. It is a criminal offence to remove any vehicle involved in an accident in which another person is killed or injured from the position in which it came to rest, until it is authorised by a traffic officer. (This does not apply when the accident causes complete obstruction of the roadway of a public road. Then, the vehicle may be moved after its position has been clearly marked.)112
  1. World Health Organization — ‘Report 2015: Data Tables’, reproduced at Wikipedia ‘List of Countries by Traffic-related Death Rate’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

  2. www.statistica.com — ‘Leading Causes of Death Worldwide’. 

  3. As amended; the latest amendments effected by Act 64 of 2008. 

  4. Section 89(1). 

  5. Section 64 of the Act. 

  6. In particular, see section 89(2) – (5). 

  7. Save for a few isolated instances. 

  8. Section 12(1)(a) and (b) of the 1989 Act. 

  9. Section 12(1)(a) and (b). 

  10. Section 12(1)(c) of the 1989 Act. 

  11. Section 13(1) of the 1989 Act. 

  12. Section 13(2) of the 1989 Act. 

  13. Section 17(4). 

  14. Section 18(5). 

  15. Section 18(5)c. 

  16. Section 3E(5). 

  17. Section 4(3). 

  18. Section 5(6). 

  19. Section 5(7)t. 

  20. Section 66(4). 

  21. Section 37. 

  22. Section 42A. 

  23. Section 12(a). 

  24. Section 12(b). 

  25. See Section 15. 

  26. Section 16(1). 

  27. Section 16(2). 

  28. Section 17(5). 

  29. Section 18(5A. 

  30. Section 22. 

  31. Section 30. 

  32. Section 31. 

  33. See Section E below. 

  34. Section 32(1). 

  35. Section 33(3) read with section 33(1). 

  36. Section 25(7)a of the Act 

  37. This means someone who, for direct reward, teaches someone the rules of the road, and traffic signs, in order to obtain a licence; or instructs someone in the driving of a vehicle. See Section 1 of the Act. 

  38. That is, in terms of section 28B. 

  39. Section 28(2). 

  40. Section 28(2). 

  41. Section 47. 

  42. Section 54. 

  43. Section 66(1). 

  44. Section 66(2). 

  45. Section 66(3). 

  46. Section 66(3). 

  47. Section 57(9). 

  48. Section 57(12). 

  49. Section 58(1). 

  50. Section 62(1). 

  51. Section 67. 

  52. This means an inspector of licences, an examiner of vehicles, an examiner for driving licences, a traffic warden or a traffic officer – see section 1 of the Act. (NOTE: These two provisions are to be found in section 3K of the Act. This section has not yet come into force, but the Department of Transport considers them to have commenced on 1 August 2000.) 

  53. Section 3K(1) read with section 89(2). 

  54. The Act uses the unusual word ‘connive’; it means conspire. 

  55. Section 3K(2) read with section 89(2). 

  56. Section 42(1) read with section 89(2). 

  57. Section 1 of the Act. 

  58. Section 42(2) read with section 89(2). 

  59. Section 42(2) read with section 89(2). 

  60. Section 44(1) read with section 89(2). 

  61. Section 68(1) read with section 89(3). 

  62. Section 68(2)(a) read with section 89(3). 

  63. Section 68(3)(b) read with section 89(3). 

  64. Section 68(3) read with section 89(3). 

  65. Section 68(3)(b). 

  66. Section 68(3)(c). 

  67. Section 68(4)(a) read with section 89(3). 

  68. Section 68(4)(b). 

  69. Section 68(6)(a) read with section 89(3). 

  70. Section 68(6)(b) read with section 89(3). 

  71. Section 45(1)(a). 

  72. Section 1 of the Act. 

  73. Section 51 of the Act. 

  74. Technically, a motor vehicle to which regulations 273 to 283 apply. 

  75. See Regulation 265 of the regulations promulgated under Government Notice R225 published on 17 March 2000. Good luck with reading them. 

  76. See Regulation 225(2). 

  77. It is not clear who this is. It is intended to mean a registering authority appointed in terms of section 3 of the Act, per the definition, but the definition has not yet come into force. 

  78. Section 49(1)(a) read with section 89(2). 

  79. Section 49(1)(a) read with section 89(2). 

  80. Or after it could reasonably be expected that he should have been aware, whichever event occurs first. 

  81. Section 49(1)(b) read with section 89(2) 

  82. Referred to in section 32 of the Act. 

  83. Section 49(1)(c) read with section 89(2). 

  84. Section 49(1)(d) read with section 89(2). 

  85. Section 49(1)(f) read with section 89(2). 

  86. Section 49(1)(e) read with section 89(2). 

  87. Section 49(1)(g) read with section 89(2). 

  88. When I was at University, I had wanted to do a Masters degree exploring the socio-legal implications of alcohol advertising. Given that, well, advertising works and alcohol causes road deaths (not to mention domestic violence) I figured there was a connection to be investigated. I guess the Professor in question thought I was out of my tree, for I never even received an answer to my letter of proposal. Maybe he just knew my work too well. 

  89. Section 65(1)(a) read with section 89(2). 

  90. Section 65(1)(b) read with section 89(2). 

  91. This equates to approximately 2 tots for an adult male of 91 kg. See www.drinkingandyou.com – ‘Drinking and Driving’. Statistically (at least, in England) the risk of someone with this blood/alcohol concentration being involved in an accident is doubled. Ibid. 

  92. Section 65(2)(a) read with section 89(2). 

  93. Section 65(2)(b) read with section 89(2). 

  94. Section 65(2)(a) read with section 89(2). 

  95. Section 65(2)(b) read with section 89(2). 

  96. Section 65(5)(a) read with section 89(2). 

  97. Section 65(5)b read with section 89(2). 

  98. Section 65(5)(a) read with section 89(2). 

  99. Section 65(5)(b) read with section 89(2). 

  100. Section 65(9) read with section 89(2). 

  101. See Regulation 292 promulgated under Government Notice R225 published on 17 March 2000. 

  102. Section 59(4) read with section 89(3). 

  103. This includes where you drive with wilful or deliberate disregard for the safety of persons or property. See section 63(2) of the Act. 

  104. Section 63(1) read with section 89(5). 

  105. Section 61(1)(a) read with section 89(4). 

  106. Section 61(1)(b) read with section 89(4). 

  107. Section 61(1)(c) read with section 89(4). 

  108. Section 61(1)(d) read with section 89(4). 

  109. Section 61(1)(e) read with section 89(4). 

  110. Section 61(1)(f) read with section 89(4). 

  111. Section 61(1)(g) read with section 89(4). 

  112. Section 61(2) read with section 89(3).