As the festive season is fast approaching, many of us will be fortunate enough to hit the road and travel to various destinations. Road safety is of utmost importance and it is quite common around this time of the year that there is an increased visibility of traffic officers on the roads, such as through the setting up of road blocks. Some people may be of the opinion that interactions with the traffic officers can often bring about feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Knowing what your rights are in these scenarios might help to reduce those feelings and this article addresses six common concerns that road users have in relation to interactions with traffic officers.
Must I stop at a roadblock when instructed to?
A traffic officer in uniform is allowed to require a driver of any vehicle to stop such vehicle. This will also apply during a roadblock. It is an offence to not stop at a roadblock when ordered or instructed by a traffic officer to do so. A driver must also stop at a roadblock if there is a sign or any other barrier indicating that s/he must stop.
Must traffic officers identify themselves at a roadblock?
Traffic officers are usually identified through them wearing a uniform, you are entitled to ask the traffic officer for proof of identity if you are uncertain (for example, if the traffic officer is not in uniform). Traffic officers are required by law to carry their appointment certificate (identity card) at all times and when in full or partial uniform, to display his/her official name tag above the right breast pocket of his/her uniform.
Can I be arrested for outstanding traffic fines at a roadblock?
No, you cannot be arrested for outstanding traffic fines, unless there is a warrant of arrest issued against you for one of those outstanding fines.
It is possible for you to be arrested at a roadblock (without a warrant of arrest) if the traffic officer witnessed you committing a serious offence. Alternatively, you can be issued with a fine, which can also include a summons to appear in court at a certain date. Traffic officers may also not demand money to pay a fine on the spot and you should also not bribe the traffic officer. Bribery is a criminal offence and may lead to you being arrested.
What are my rights if I am being arrested at a roadblock?
If it does happen that you find yourself being arrested, you have the following rights:
> to be informed of the reason for your arrest;
> to remain silent and only to provide your name and address. Any other information given to the police may be used against you in a criminal trial;
> the right to obtain legal representation;
> the right to be brought before a court within 48 hours (weekends and public holidays excluded) after the arrest; and
> the right to apply for bail.
If you are denied any of the above rights, it may lead to your arrest being unlawful and you can bring a civil action against the officer who performed the arrest and/or the Minister of Police.
Can I refuse a breathalyser or blood test when asked by a traffic officer?
No, refusing to take a breathalyser test is a criminal offence in terms of the National Road Traffic Act. Such a refusal may also be considered as defeating the ends of justice, which may lead to you being arrested. Although traffic officers are allowed to conduct the breathalyser test, only a registered medical practitioner or a registered nurse is allowed to take a blood sample.
Can my car be searched without a search warrant?
Yes, it is possible. As a general rule, traffic officers must obtain a search warrant in order to conduct a valid search. However, this rule does not apply in properly constituted roadblocks and you can request to see a copy of the written authorisation to hold the roadblock.
Apart from the above general questions based on roadblocks over the festive season, you must remember that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and that all road users must adhere to the regulations published by the government from time to time. These include wearing a mask in public, particularly if you are being pulled over by a traffic officer. The regulations relating to the pandemic also requires you to plan your traveling time to ensure that they are not against the relevant curfews that may be in place.
Did you know… You cannot be arrested for outstanding traffic fines at a roadblock, unless there is a warrant of arrest issued against you for one of those outstanding fines.