A press statement from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) about outstanding traffic fines is outrageous and amounts to fear mongering among South African road users. The Automobile Association (AA) says the RTMC must immediately retract the statement, and apologise to motorists for creating a false impression of the RTMC’s law enforcement capability.

In the statement issued on Tuesday the RTMC notes, “The RTMC advises all motorists to check if they have any outstanding traffic fines before embarking on their festive journeys. Traffic officers are being deployed on all major routes and those found with outstanding traffic fines will not be allowed to proceed.”

“If this approach is followed through by law enforcement officers, it amounts to an immense abuse of power and the RTMC will effectively be stealing citizens’ rights. It is beyond belief that an organisation tasked with enforcing the law – and headed by an Advocate of the High Court – can make such a disgraceful statement clearly threatening citizens, instead of focusing on how to enforce the law better,” says the AA.

According to the AA the statement is indirectly saying motorists with outstanding traffic fines will be arrested, a major contravention of South Africa’s laws.

“The only time a road user may be detained at the roadside is if a warrant of arrest is issued against their name. Preventing someone from proceeding on a journey because of an outstanding traffic fine amounts to arrest without following due process. We cannot stress how totally shameful and outrageous such a statement is,” the Association says.

In addition, says the AA, no clarity is given on what exactly an outstanding traffic fine is.

“Is an outstanding fine a fine issued last week, last month, or yesterday? What if someone received a fine but decided to contest it before paying, would that amount to an outstanding fine? Again, the enormity of the legal shortcoming in this statement is glaring, and certainly unbecoming of an agency such as the RTMC,” says the AA.

The Association says it is concerned traffic law enforcement officers will use the above statement to misapply the law, and apply traffic law as they see fit. It says motorists travelling over the festive season now run the risk of becoming victims of over-zealous enforcement officers, intent on generating revenue and cashing in on motorists’ fears of jail time.

The AA says instead of the RTMC looking at new ways to generate revenue, it should focus its energies on improved road user education, and protecting road users through enforcing laws as they are written.

“The statement from the RTMC suggests it’s looking at scaring motorists with a new (illegal) approach to law enforcement. But there are laws already in place, and it would serve the RTMC and the country better if these were actually enforced,” the AA concludes.