Know Your Roadblock Rights

Traffic Law

What are your rights when you get stopped at a roadblock? Can you film an officer? Can you be arrested for outstanding fines? Herewith a list of important things you should know when it comes to roadblocks in South Africa.

You’re happily driving along, you haven’t had any alcohol to drink, your licence is valid and you have no outstanding fines. Then, you see those blue flashing lights up ahead and instantly fear sets in. Your palms start to sweat, you start to question when you last had a drink, “Was it yesterday? Or the day before? Will a breathalyser test find me over the legal limit? Has my licence expired?”.

Why do we panic the minute we know we have to head through a roadblock? Is it because we have to deal with the authorities, or maybe it’s because we all know someone who knows someone who was arrested at a roadblock, or maybe it is just the unknown that scares us. Do you really know your rights at a roadblock? Let’s take a look.

Not all roadblocks are the same

First of all, you need to know the different types of roadblocks. There is an informal roadblock which usually pops up on major roads and off-ramps and the primary goal is to check for drunken driving, speeding or unroadworthy vehicles and outstanding fines. The other kind of roadblock is the K78 which is approved by the National Police Commissioner. These are usually set up to find a specific criminal or a vehicle already on the authorities’ radar.

The main difference between these two types of roadblocks is the police’s ability and right to search your vehicle and person. A search cannot be performed at an informal roadblock without a warrant unless the officer can prove extraordinary circumstances. With that said, even at a K78 roadblock, you can ask the police officer to present you with the warrant or authorisation from the National Police Commissioner.

Both the police officers as well as you as the driver have rights. You should know both sides to feel safe, calm and informed.

According to an article originally posted on Carte Blanche, a police officer must be in full uniform when working at a roadblock. They can pull you over for any of the following reasons:

  • To complete a routine check of the vehicle and the driver. Depending on the type of roadblock, they may request a full search.

  • The driver committed a traffic offence like failing to stop at a stop street or speeding.

  • The vehicle is suspected to be stolen or the vehicle is believed to contain criminal individuals or contraband.

The officer is then legally allowed to do the following:

  • Request your driver’s licence and ID.

  • Check for outstanding fines.

  • Check the vehicle’s licence disk and ensure the car is roadworthy.

  • If the officer requests to search the car, he/she must provide you with a copy of an official warrant stating the reason for the search. Bear in mind that if a police officer has reasonable grounds to perform a search without a warrant, he/she may do so.

  • If the officer suspects you are driving under the influence he/she can ask you to exit the car and a breathalyser test may be requested. If you refuse, the police officer can detain you and have blood tests performed at the nearest police station.

A K78 roadblock is a bit different in that a police officer can search any vehicle or person without a warrant and seize items from the vehicle or person should these be illegal or suspected to be linked to a crime.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Should a police officer request to perform a body search, it is illegal for an officer of the opposite sex to search you.

If you find yourself at a K78 roadblock you are within your rights to ask for a copy of the authorisation letter given by the National Police Commissioner. It must state the date of the authorised roadblock, the duration of it and the purpose of it.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The South African Constitution makes no provision for cops to insist on the payment of fines on the spot. The only time you are legally obliged to pay a fine immediately is when the officer can provide you with a copy of the official warrant or summons. If an officer can’t provide you with a warrant of arrest but still wants to arrest you, ask to call your attorney immediately.

Safety

It is quite normal to feel unsafe at a roadblock, especially if you are driving alone or at night. The best thing to do is remain calm and call 10111 and inform them that you feel unsafe pulling over at a roadblock. If you are already stopped and feeling unsafe, you are at liberty to ask the officer for their badge number and calmly inform them that you wish to call 10111 to confirm their badge number.

Filming an officer

You are legally allowed to film or photograph an officer for evidence purposes in cases of threats or police brutality. It is illegal for a police officer to confiscate or damage your recording equipment or to force you to remove footage or images.

What will get you arrested at a roadblock

  • You are found to be driving under the influence.

  • You have been driving recklessly, carelessly or dangerously.

  • You are willfully obstructing the roadway.

  • You are found to be driving with a cancelled or disqualified licence.

  • Police suspect you may have committed or are about to commit a crime.

  • You verbally or physically abuse an officer. Any racial slurs, threats, crude gestures or physical contact could result in arrest. Also preventing an officer from doing their job is a criminal offence.

It can be a rather unsettling ordeal, but if you haven’t done anything wrong, you shouldn’t experience any problems. Pull over when you are flagged to do so, remain calm, cordial and respectful and follow the police officer’s instructions. If you have been caught doing something wrong, don’t argue! Accept responsibility and never engage in bribery. The police are doing their job, respect that.

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