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Blue Light Brigade: who is above the law?

07.10.2014

WE’VE all been in this situation… sitting on the highway in traffic, when all of a sudden you’re approached from the rear by huge black SUVs with tinted black windows and blue flashing lights. One might think this is just South Africa’s CIA going off to catch a serial killer or terrorist, but the fact is, they’re nothing more than chauffeurs.

The Blue Light Brigade is used by politicians or higher-up officials promoting the fact that they’re superior. Unfortunately, because of their reckless driving and excessive speeding, there have been incidents where these “road bullies” have caused major accidents - too many to be named.

There’ve been dozens of reports on blue light brigades abusing their power and injuring civilians, such as 18-year-old, Thomas Ferrera, who was in a critical condition after being knocked off his bike by Joseph Motsamai Semitjie in the official vehicle of Gauteng MEC, Humphrey Mmemezi in Krugersdorp, Beeld newspaper reported in 2011. In 2012 the Mayor of Sasolburg, Brutus Mahluku’s driver, was caught speeding along the N1 at 235km/h. When traffic officers attempted to stop the vehicle, its blue lights were switched on and it continued to speed for another 30km. Fortunately, for the driver, Elliot Sefatsana, pulling the my-boss-was-late excuse, got him off with a measly R1 000 bail. We have to ask, what could be so important that the Mayor of Sasolburg had to be transported at 235km/h? If this speed was done by a civilian, his licence would have been suspended and he’d be given a massive fine. The police are currently investigating over 250 complaints against the Blue Light Brigade. But what are they permitted to do, legally?

The Road Traffic Act of 1996 clearly states that traffic police and police officers are allowed to exceed the speed limit and to disobey road traffic signs while they are carrying out their duties. But do these duties include driving a VIP to a meeting? In my opinion, if a VIP is being transported from one place to another isn’t it the “duty” of the officer to protect the VIP (if his life were in danger), rather than getting him to a meeting on time?

There is a Blue Light Protocol released by the Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), which states precisely what a civilian driver should do if and when approached by any blue light brigades. These steps create a hypothetical situation which would never happen in the real world and refer to a situation where you’re stopped by police or a blue light brigade, which you think is illegal or a “fake” police vehicle. But, I digress. These are the steps to follow should you be approached by a blue light brigade vehicle:

REMAIN CALM. Slow right down, turn your hazard lights on and extend your right arm out of the window. Move your forearm forward and back. Repeat this action several times.

Drive at no more than 40km/h and proceed directly to the closest police station or public place with CCTV cameras in operation such as a service station forecourt.

If you drive to a police station, hoot for as long as it takes for someone to come out. If you drive to a service station, drive onto the forecourt near the pumps or the convenience shop, so you’ll be in full view of the cameras. Never become violent! Remain calm and respectful. Clarify that you didn’t feel safe; you weren’t comfortable and you weren’t sure whether the driver/occupants of the blue light vehicle were genuine police officers.

The Blue Light Protocol further states that if you follow all these steps precisely, and the people pursuing you start shooting at you, do everything you can to evade them and get away without endangering yourself and others. In 2010 the Western Cape’s provincial traffic legislation banned the use of blue lights for all government vehicles unless there’s a “genuine” emergency, such as the threat of assassination. Should we do the same?

Article written by Charl Swart
07.10.2014
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