Cape Town - South African motorists are not unfamiliar to emergency vehicles howling their sirens and flashing their lights on the country's roads.
And for the most part, drivers are very accommodating to emergency vehicles en route to an emergency or the ER.
But when it comes to the 'blue light brigade' aka government officials' vehicles (read: politicians) forcing their way through traffic, motorists tend to be less kind to the inconsiderate tactics of those voted into power and their drivers.
In addition to this, not all motorists are aware what the colour of the lights on these vehicles mean, as well as what the law says on what privileges both emergency and government vehicles have.
Wheels24 approached the Justice Project SA (JPSA) and Arrive Alive for comments on what SA motorists should do when confronted with these vehicles.
1. Wheels24: Can government vehicles force you off the road?
Arrive Alive: If a vehicle displays a blue light it has priority in traffic and you must move out of the way if it is safe to do so. You cannot decide which blue lights are important and which not. If you think the light was used illegally, take the number down and report it.
JPSA: No vehicle may lawfully force you off the road.
2. W24: Do you have to make way for government vehicles?
JPSA: Every motorist is legally obliged to give an immediate and absolute right of way to a vehicle displaying red or blue (or a combination thereof) flashing lights and sounding its siren.
3. W24: Is it the same for all provinces?
JPSA: The National Road Traffic Act and its regulations is National legislation and applies EVERYWHERE in South Africa.
4. W24: What does the law say?
JPSA: Regulation 308(h) of the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2000 says “No person driving or having a vehicle on a public road shall fail to give an immediate and absolute right of way to a vehicle sounding a device or bell or displaying an identification lamp in terms of section 58(3) or 60 or Regulation 176”
5. W24: What can be done to improve the use of these lights?
Arrive Alive: Controlling the use of blue lamps is the government's responsibility. The onus is not on road users to regulate and/or enforce it.
JPSA: Lots, but probably too much to contemplate in a news article. At a fundamental level however, JPSA holds that the term “emergency” must be defined in the National Road Traffic Act and drivers of vehicles displaying flashing red/blue lights and sounding sirens must only be allowed to lawfully use them in a bona fide emergency and within a strict framework of operational requirements - like for example - limiting the speed with which they may disregard a red traffic light signal.
Do you have any thoughts regarding the "blue light brigade" or emergency vehicles in SA? Are there ways government could improve law and emergency services? Email us.
1. W24: Do you have to make way for emergency vehicles?
Emergency vehicles will always have right of way. Motorists do not know whether or not there is a real emergency, but it is not up to the motoring public to decide what is and what isn't. Motorists have an obligation to make way for emergency vehicles with flashing lights and/or howling sirens.
2. W24: Where do you turn to? Especially in peak traffic.
JPSA: Yielding right of way must always be done with due regard for your and other traffic’s safety. Typically in peak traffic, where there is only one lane in each direction, this is done by moving further to the left and/or onto the verge of the road.
Where there is more than one lane in each direction this is achieved by vehicles in the left lane moving further to the left and/or onto the verge of the road while vehicles in the right-hand lane move further to the right without encroaching into the path of oncoming traffic.
Arrive Alive: Move over to the side, usually towards the left, but that would depend on the road situation.
3. W24: Do these laws/rules apply to all provinces?
Yes, because all the rules of all roads in SA are governed by government.
4. W24: What does the law say?
JPSA: The law doesn’t give you the latitude to decide if it is a bona fide emergency or not. Again, see regulation 308(h).
Arrive Alive: A driver MUST give immediate and absolute right of way to any emergency vehicle that has its warning lights or siren activated.
JPSA: "One of the biggest killers on South African roads is undoubtedly arrogance and/or aggression. Whether that arrogance and/or aggression is exhibited by drivers of emergency vehicles, VIP vehicles, or ordinary motorists is irrelevant. Everyone has an absolute responsibility to drive with due care and regard for the safety of other traffic and people.
"Anyone who actively blocks an emergency vehicle should, in our view, be flogged in public for all to see, but sadly our Constitution doesn’t allow for that. Similarly, anyone who pushes other motorists off the road should also be flogged!
"Many “blue light brigade” drivers have repeatedly demonstrated that they are reckless and have no regard for anyone else and their actions must be curtailed - by legislative amendments - not motorists who take it upon themselves to stop them."
The Law in full
The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 says on:
General duties of driver or passenger of vehicle on public road (Regulation 308)
1 No person driving or having a vehicle on a public road shall:
(a) cause such vehicle to travel backwards unless it can be done in safety, or cause it to run backwards for a distance or time longer than may be necessary for the safety or reasonable convenience of any occupant of that vehicle or of other traffic on such road; or
(b) follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent having regard to the speed of such other vehicle and the traffic on and the condition of the roadway, or more closely than is prescribed in these regulations;
(c) permit any person, animal or object to occupy any position in or on such vehicle which may prevent the driver thereof from exercising complete control over the movements of the vehicle or signalling his or her intention of stopping, slowing down or changing direction;
(d) when driving such vehicle, permit any person to take hold of or interfere with the steering or operating mechanism of the vehicle;
(e) when driving such vehicle, occupy such position that he or she does not have complete control over the vehicle or does not have a full view of the roadway and the traffic ahead of such vehicle.
(f) allow such vehicle to remain unattended on such road without setting its brake or adopting such other method as will effectively prevent the vehicle from moving from the position in which it is left;
(g) if such vehicle is parked or is stationary at the side of such road, drive the vehicle from that position unless he or she is able to do so without interfering with moving traffic approaching from any direction and with safety to himself or herself and others;
(h) fail to give an immediate and absolute right of way to a vehicle sounding a device or bell or displaying an identification lamp in terms of section 58(3) or 60 or regulation 176; - see reg 176 below
(i) allow any portion of his or her body to protrude beyond such vehicle while it is in motion on such road except for the purpose of giving any hand signal which he or she is required or authorised to give in terms of these regulations or unless he or she is engaged in examining or testing or parking such vehicle;
(j) permit any person or animal to occupy the roof, any step or running board or any other place on top of a vehicle while such vehicle is in motion;
(k) cause or allow the engine thereof to run in such manner that it emits smoke or fumes which would not be emitted if the engine were in good condition or ran in an efficient manner;
(l) cause or allow the engine thereof to run while the motor vehicle is stationary and unattended;
(m) negligently or wilfully deposit or cause or permit to be deposited any petrol or other liquid fuel or any oil or grease or other flammable or offensive matter, ashes or other refuse, of whatever nature, from such vehicle upon or alongside such road; or
(n) cause or allow the engine thereof to run while petrol or other flammable fuel is being delivered into the fuel tank of such vehicle, or cause or allow such engine to be started up before the delivery of the petrol or other flammable fuel into the fuel tank of such vehicle has been completed and the cover of such fuel tank has been replaced.
2 No person, other than the driver, shall take hold of or interfere with the steering or operating mechanism of a vehicle while it is in motion on a public road, unless it may reasonably be inferred that the driver is no longer capable of steering or controlling such vehicle.
3 No passenger in a vehicle on a public road shall permit any part of his or her body to protrude beyond such vehicle.
4 No person shall enter or alight from any vehicle on a public road unless such vehicle is stationary and unless he or she can do so with safety to himself or herself and other users of the road.
5 No person shall drive, pull or push a vehicle upon a sidewalk: Provided that the provisions of this sub-regulation shall not apply to a perambulator, invalid chair, baby cart or child’s play vehicle.
Download the full Act here.
Identification lamps (lights) (Regulation 176)
1 A bus or a goods vehicle, the gross vehicle mass of which exceeds 3 500 kilograms, and which is not a motor vehicle referred to in subregulation (2), (3) or (5), may be fitted above the windscreen with two or more identification lamps and each such lamp shall:
(a) not exceed a capacity of 21 Watts;
(b) be visible from directly in front of the motor vehicle to which it is fitted; and
(c) emit a green or amber light.
2 An ambulance, fire-fighting or rescue vehicle may be fitted with a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently-flashing red light in any direction.
3 (a) Subject to paragraph (b), no person shall operate a motor vehicle fitted with, or in or on which is displayed, a lamp or lamps emitting a blue light or capable of emitting a blue light.
(b) The provisions of paragraph (a) does not apply to a motor vehicle operated by a member of the Service or a member of a municipal police service, both as defined in section 1 of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 (Act No. 68 of 1995), or a traffic officer, or a member of the South African Defence Force authorised in terms of section 87(1)(g) of the Defence Act, 1957 (Act No. 44 of 1957) to perform police functions, in the execution of his or her duties.
(c) A motor vehicle referred to in paragraph (b) may be fitted with a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently-flashing
(i) blue light;
(ii) blue and amber light;
(iii) blue and red light; or
(iv) blue, amber and red light, in any direction which may, at the will of the driver, display the word “stop”.
4 A motor vehicle which is
(a) a vehicle employed in connection with the maintenance of public road;
(b) engaged in the distribution and supply of electricity;
(c) engaged in the supply of other essential public services;
(d) operated in terms of the authority granted by the MEC in terms of section 81 of the Act;
(e) a breakdown vehicle;
(f) a refuse compactor vehicle;
(g) a vehicle carrying an abnormal load and the vehicle escorting it if any, may, but a breakdown vehicle shall, be fitted with a lamp or lamps capable of emitting an intermittently-flashing amber light in any direction: Provided that such lamp shall only be used at the place where the breakdown occurred, where the maintenance or other work or an inspection is being carried out, when such breakdown vehicle is towing a motor vehicle, or in the event of a vehicle carrying an abnormal load.
5 A motor vehicle used by a medical practitioner may be fitted above the windscreen with one lamp emitting an intermittently flashing red light in any direction: Provided that such light may only be used by such medical practitioner in the bona fide exercise of his or her profession.
6 A vehicle driven by a person while he or she is responding to a disaster as contemplated in the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002), may be fitted with a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently-flashing green light in any direction.
7 A vehicle
(a) owned by a body or person registered as a security officer in terms of the Security Officers Act, 1987 (Act No. 92 of 1987); and
(b) driven by a security officer as defined in section 1 of the said Act in the course of rendering a security service, also defined in section 1 of the said Act, may be fitted with a white lens bar containing a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently- flashing diffused white light in any direction, and containing a notice illuminated by a white light containing the word “security” and the name of the owner of the vehicle in black letters: Provided that the said lamp or lamps shall not be capable of emitting a rotating or strobe light.
Download the full Act here.