Call to review ‘blue light brigades’ in South Africa

Presidential Protection Unit convoys transporting politicians on the country’s roads – especially on major highways – continue to pose a road safety threat for all motorists, and their operation should be reviewed, says the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa.

The association said it plans to hold engagements with the ministers of police and transport to have the review instituted urgently.

“Blue light brigades are, simply put, a threat to other drivers. There is growing anecdotal evidence that PPU drivers are aggressive to other road users, that they speed way above the applicable speed limits, that they swerve dangerously in and out of traffic, and that they disrespect other road users.

“But the blame is not only theirs; their passengers are as much to blame, if not more so than they are,” said the AA.

What the rules say 

Section 58(3) of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) permits drivers of emergency vehicles such as traffic officers and duly authorised drivers, as well as a ‘person appointed in terms of the South African Police Service Act who drives a vehicle in the carrying out of his or her duties’ to disregard the directions of a road traffic sign displayed in the prescribed manner.

Regulation 176 of the NRTA further states that drivers on the road are supposed to give an absolute right of way to a vehicle sounding a device or bell or displaying an identification lamp.

The AA noted that any driver who drives recklessly or is careless about the safety of other users on the road can be held liable for gross negligence where they pose a threat to property or another person whether they were driving a politician, delegate, VIP, or a car fitted with a blue light – just like any other road user.

“Obviously we appreciate that this regulation is intended to deal with emergencies and to give authorities the road space they need to deal with these. But to invoke this legislation to transport VIPs at high speeds, with a total disregard for traffic laws, is not only unacceptable, but it’s also dangerous.

“Road users should not be bullied off the road or to be forced to give right of way when it is not safe to do so. The law protects the safety of the road user first,” said the AA.

The association said such behaviour negates any attempts by the government to address the country’s high annual road death numbers. It notes that if blue light brigades are allowed to continue operating as they do now – unchecked and out of control – the government has no moral place to speak about the national road safety crisis in South Africa.

“If politicians – and members of the cabinet – speak on road safety, and the need to deal effectively with the carnage on the country’s roads, they must also obey the rules and instruct their drivers to do likewise.

“When blue light brigades exceed speed limits and drive dangerously and recklessly on the country’s roads, the message is that rules don’t apply to them, and the safety of other road users doesn’t matter to them,” the AA said.

Read: Cape Town plans to spend R1 billion to end peak-hour traffic jams

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