November 25 2013 at 09:01am By Daneel Knoetze
The institute of Security Studies sympathises with the police’s opposition to a new law that forbids blue-light brigades on the Western Cape’s roads, saying the escorting of VIPs should be regarded as a police duty.
Last week, a regulation that bans cabinet ministers and other public office-bearers from using blue lights and sirens when travelling on public roads became law in the Western Cape.
Office-bearers who are convicted under the new law face a fine or a year imprisonment. The president, deputy president and visiting heads of state are exempt from the law.
Transport MEC Robin Carlisle, who is behind the regulation, argues that it is in the interest of road safety. He notes that blue-light brigades often break traffic rules indiscriminately when transporting office bearers.
When the draft regulation underwent a public participation process earlier this year, national police commissioner Riah Phiyega voiced her opposition to it. Phiyega’s comment, a copy of which is in the Cape Argus’s possession, referred to the Road Traffic Act, which allowed for a police officer to use a vehicle fitted with flashing blue lights “to perform police functions, in execution of his or her duties”.
“The use of a blue light by police officials escorting relevant dignitaries or officials is recognised as a method used by the police service to make road users aware of that they must give way to an oncoming convoy escorted by members of the service.”
Johan Burger, of the Institute of Security Studies, studied Phiyega’s objection. He agreed that “with the strictest interpretation of the law” the escorting of VIPs should be regarded as a police duty.
“To use the blue lights to indicate the presence or approach of the police is one thing,” he said.
“But, to add the use of sirens is to indicate that not only is the police cavalcade approaching, but that there is some kind of emergency and that other road users should give way.
“This practice is commonly used to ensure that the VIP (or office-bearer) is on time for some event or for a scheduled flight. It also implies that VIPs (or office-bearers) have a right to fast transport that exceeds the general speed limits applicable to the average road user.”
Burger concluded that police should be allowed to switch on their blue lights to indicate their presence in a convoy, but should not be allowed to break traffic rules when doing so.
In her comment, Phiyega, however, argued that provisions to discipline police drivers who unnecessarily broke traffic laws already existed. This made Carlisle’s new law redundant, the comment concluded.