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News Room

Know Your Roadblock Rights

Jason Snyman
2019-11-15
With roadblock season fast approaching, it's important to know what your rights are, and what is expected of you, when pulled over by a traffic official. May they search you or your vehicle? May you film any unpleasant incidents? Do you absolutely have to stop? Let's take a look.

With the festive season just around the corner, accompanied by a massive increase in reckless, drunken driving, the likelihood of any South African motorist encountering a roadblock in the coming month is far, far higher. 

Finding yourself suddenly ushered over to the side of the road on an off-ramp can be annoying, stressful and, given numerous accounts of police brutality and corruption, quite terrifying. 

But, don’t be intimidated. Provided you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s important to know exactly what your rights are in these situations, and what is required of you, by law. 

So, let’s dive right into it. 

Roadblock Basics

We get two different types of roadblocks in South Africa; informal and approved.

Informal roadblocks commonly pop up on major roads or off-ramps, and their primary purpose is to curb the scourge of speeding, drunken driving and unroadworthy vehicles on our roads by checking for licences or outstanding fines. 

During these roadblocks, the traffic officials present are not permitted to conduct any searches of your person or your vehicle without a warrant (which you may ask for) unless the officer can prove extraordinary circumstances in the court of law, such as, for instance, the sound of muffled screaming coming from your boot.

The K78 roadblock, however, which is a roadblock that has been approved by the National Police Commissioner, allows police officers to conduct a full search of your vehicle and your person without a warrant. Women, of course, have to be searched by a woman police officer. No male officer may conduct any search of a woman’s person. 

In both cases, when flagged down by a uniformed officer, we are obligated by law to pull over to the side of the road in a safe and timely fashion. Always remain calm, be courteous, and provide relevant personal details and documents when requested.  

This could include your driver’s licence, your ID, your physical address and any other particulars pertaining to your identity. If unable to produce your licence for whatever reason, you may present it at any police station within seven days. 

If given a fine or infringement notice, sign it, and be on your way. You can contest this later through the appropriate channels, that is, until the AARTO Act makes it incredibly difficult to do so. 

You do not have to, and should never, stop for any officers out of uniform, or if no marked vehicle is clearly visible. If they pursue you to pull you over, you have the full right to ask or signal to the officer to follow you to the nearest police station, where it will be safer for you to stop. 

With the blue-light imposter trick now prevalent in South African hijacking, it may prove difficult to tell a police officer from a criminal at first glance. Always be aware, especially when travelling alone, or at night, and when in doubt, don’t stop. Make your way over to the nearest police station immediately, and if possible, take note of their vehicle’s registration number.

Unpaid Traffic Fines

Can you be arrested in a roadblock for outstanding traffic fines?

If there is a warrant of arrest (usually issued when you’ve failed to appear in court after receiving a summons in connection with unpaid violations) associated with any of your existing, unpaid traffic fines, then yes, the officer has the right to arrest you. 

These warrants are often scoffed at by law-flouting motorists, but in reality, they have been issued under the Criminal Procedure Act, and as such, are just as serious as a warrant for any other crime. You may be arrested anywhere, at any time, for the primary purpose of bringing you before court, and not necessarily to see those unpaid fines paid. 

No traffic officer is permitted to accept any payments for outstanding traffic fines during a roadblock. In cases of money being requested on the spot, the officer is almost certainly trying to get a bribe out of you.

This may be tempting, especially when you’ve found yourself in a lot of trouble. Don’t do it. Don’t offer a bribe, nor agree to one if requested. You may find yourself prosecuted harshly.  

If you should find yourself under arrest due to such a warrant, do not resist. The officer is obligated to inform you of your rights immediately after placing you under arrest, and is obligated to transfer you directly to the police station. They may not drive around with you in the back of the vehicle. 

If the officer cannot furnish you with written proof of a warrant for your arrest, however, you have the right to refuse being placed under arrest. The officer may detain you at the scene for a reasonable amount of time in order to obtain this warrant, if it exists. 

Arresting officers must always be clearly identifiable in full uniform, and must be able to provide you with their appointment certificate when requested. 

Other Ways To Get Into Trouble

There are quite a few ways to get ourselves arrested during a roadblock, and most of these all depend on how we choose to conduct ourselves. Thanks to the law, we, as motorists and human beings, have many rights to protect us from tyranny and unfair or harmful practice. That doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we like, though.

  • You may not disrespect or verbally / physically abuse an officer, or you will be arrested;
  • You may not intentionally disobey a lawful request of any officer;
  • If suspected to be driving under the influence, you may be asked to take a breathalyser test, or alternatively, a blood test at the nearest hospital. To refuse this is to give the officer grounds to take you into custody;
  • With regards to a blood test, conducted at the nearest mobile unit, clinic or hospital, you have the right to insist on the use of sterile, clean equipment that has been opened in front of you. If, in your opinion, these health standards are not being met, you may refuse to have blood taken until the situation is rectified. You may also insist on using your own doctor, provided that they can be there within two-hours of you being stopped;
  • An officer is permitted to inspect your vehicle for roadworthiness, and if deemed unroadworthy, the officer may remove your licence disc, demand that operation of the vehicle ceases immediately, or request that you drive the vehicle only to reach your destination. 

If your rights are being infringed upon, remain calm. Do not contest the officers. Handle the situation carefully. If you feel like you’re being victimised, you may insist that you be taken to the nearest police station. 

You are fully within your right to film any and all incidents and traffic officials during a roadblock, and your personal property may not be seized. 

Phone your lawyer, or somebody who is able to assist you, and inform them of your location, or which police station you’re being taken to, why this is happening, and the identity of the officer present. 

Always take note of names, times, dates, locations, registration numbers, and any other particulars that may be important. 

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