All road users will, at some point, be pulled over by Metro Police and be required to abide by the law and the police officers’ instructions. However, over the last couple of months, South Africa’s social climate has left women and children in a vulnerable state that safety isn’t guaranteed. In 2019, numerous incidents were reported and shared on social media which questioned some police officials’ behaviour. Motorists don’t feel safe when pulled over by traffic officials, especially at night. So, what are your rights as a South African motorist when stopped at roadblocks or on the road?
Firstly, there are two types of roadblocks in South Africa – informal and approved. Informal roadblocks pop up on major roads or off-ramps to prevent speeding, drunken driving, and unroadworthy vehicles by checking licences or outstanding fines. Metro Police are not permitted to search a person or a vehicle without a warrant unless the officer can prove extraordinary circumstances in a court of law – for example, the sound of someone’s muffled screams from your boot.
Secondly, the approved, or K78 roadblock, has been permitted by the National Police Commissioner which allows police officers to conduct a full search of the person and the vehicle without a warrant. Women should be searched by a women police officer, of course. Male officers are prohibited from conducting a search on any woman, and vice versa. If a female officer is not present, you may ask that a female officer be called to the scene and you can remain in your vehicle until she arrives. A woman is entitled to call for help when in a situation where she feels her safety is at risk.
A police officer has the right to stop any vehicle at any time, not just at roadblocks. We are obligated to pull over to the side of the road in a safe and timely manner. It’s best to remain calm, be courteous, and provide the requested personal details and documents. This could include your driver’s licence, ID, physical address, and any other particulars about your identity.
You are entitled to ask the officer, in uniform or not, for proof of identity or appointment card. An officer who can’t or won’t provide an appointment certificate is transgressing the Criminal Procedures Act, and any actions taken will be illegal. You should never stop for any officers out of uniform, or if no marked vehicle is clearly visible. In this case, you have the full right to signal to the officer to follow you to the nearest police station, where it’ll be safer for you to stop. The blue light imposer con is prevalent, therefore, always be aware and if in doubt, don’t stop. Drive to the nearest police station and, if possible, take note of the vehicle’s registration number.
A police officer has the right to discontinue an unroadworthy vehicle immediately with motivation. They may specify that the vehicle may be used for a limited period or to reach a specific destination. When your vehicle is searched and confiscated, officers must have a strong suspicion that you’ve been involved in a crime and a warrant must already be issued by a magistrate. This does not apply for official roadblocks where necessary warrants have already been obtained.
You may not be arrested by Metro Police for outstanding fines unless they’ve issued a warrant for your arrest. They may also not force you to pay the fine there and then. Don’t offer a bribe or agree to one if requested.
If you are arrested, you must be informed of your rights immediately. Don’t resist, but request to see a copy of the warrant of arrest. If there’s no warrant for your arrest, you have the right to refuse being placed under arrest. However, the officer may detain you at the scene for a considerable amount of time to obtain the warrant. After an arrest, the officer must transfer you directly to the police station and may not drive around with you in the back of the vehicle. You have the right to be brought before a court within 48 hours of your detention. You have the right to apply and be granted bail, except for serious crimes where an application for bail can only be heard by the court.
Should you be pulled over and feel unsafe, do the following:
- Switch on your emergency lights.
- Slow down.
- Indicate with your hand that you want to talk to the officer and that you are cooperating.
- If the officer’s vehicle is alongside yours, indicate that you feel unsafe and that you’re heading towards the nearest police station, petrol station or any other safe haven.
- Notify a family member of where you are and request them to meet you there.
When pulled over, you can also get in trouble if you:
- Disrespect or verbally/physically abuse an officer or damage their property.
- Intentionally disobey a lawful request of any officer.
- Refuse a breathalyser test or a blood test at the nearest hospital.
- Resist an arrest.
- Offer or pay a bribe.
Always remain calm and don’t contest the officers. If you ever feel like you’re being victimised, you may insist on being taken to the nearest police station. You have the full right to record any incident and officials at roadblocks without your personal property being seized. Always take note of names, times, dates, registration numbers, and anything else that might be significant And most importantly – drive safe and obey the rules of the road.