A police force tainted by unscrupulous cops makes stopping at roadblocks nerve wracking and sometimes even dangerous. Knowing how to handle the situation can go a long way towards protecting yourself and your family. Howard Dembrovsky, the national chairperson of the Justice Project South Africa, advises the following:
Only stop if it's safe for you
If a roadblock has been set up late at night or in a secluded spot with no other vehicles present, it is advisable for any motorist, but especially females, to use the Blue Light Protocol, says Dembrovsky.
The Blue Light Protocol has been proposed by the Justice Project to protect motorists from harassment by police officers. It involves slowing down, putting on your hazards, indicating that the police should follow you, and then driving slowly to the nearest police station or petrol station with CCTV cameras in operation. You can read about the protocol tommorow.
However, Dembrovsky caution that you shouldn't use the protocol once you have already stopped and engaged with the police, as this could be seen as resisting arrest.
Understand if it's an official roadblock
There are two different types of roadblocks. The first are informal roadblocks set up at random by the police. The second are K78 roadblocks, which are approved by the provisional commissioner and possibly policed by the traffic police, the South African Police Service and even South African Revenue Services officials.
In a K78 roadblock, the police are entitled to search your vehicle and can even go to a full body search if they have reason to suspect that you are hiding something. You can ask to see the authorisation proving that the roadblock is legitimate, but this does escalate the situation immediately, and our experience has shown that the situation can get nasty fast.
Simply put, it is better to comply than to resist whether it is an unofficial or official roadblock.
Dealing with outstanding traffic fines
According to Dembrovsky, there is no provision in South African law that allows for the police to set up roadblocks and demand that you pay your outstanding fines. There is only a provision for a warrant to be issued for your arrest if you do not appear in court for a criminal summons, which can also be extended to the non-payment of traffic fines, but police at a roadblock would not have these warrants on their person.
Regardless, the South African police persist in establishing illegal roadblocks that use license plate recognition to check whether you have any outstanding fines. While the process itself may be illegal, if the fine is legitimate, the best way to deal with this situation is simply to pay what's owed.
Accept a breathalyzer test
If a testing point for drunk driving has been set up, Dembrovsky says that you aren't legally obliged to agree to a breathalyzer, but that you should. This is because if you don't comply, the police have grounds to arrest you and perform a blood test.
In South Africa, the legal limit for breath alcohol is 0.24mg per 1 000ml or a blood alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml. The police will sometimes exchange one limit for another to persuade you that you are over the limit after you've been breathalysed, says Dembrovsky.
For this reason, he advises all South Africans who intend to drive to avoid alcohol altogether. In this way, there can be no dispute about whether or not you are over the limit, he says.
Gather evidence if need be
Should you find yourself in a situation where your rights are being violated, take down as much evidence as you can. For instance, the officer’s badge number or the vehicle number that is on the side of their patrol car. In South Africa you have the right to film (or record) the officers that you believe are acting unlawfully – this is a good way to gather evidence.