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The big business of traffic fines

The issuing of fines for speeding and other traffic violations has grown into a multi-billion rand industry in SA.
The City of Joburg's recent medium-term budget shows that it expects to collect R563m in fines, penalties and forfeits in the current financial year. Picture: Reuters

Most people would agree that strict rules and stern policing are necessary to improve road safety, especially against the backdrop of an increasing number of cars on the road and ongoing technological advancements that are making cars faster year after year. At the same time, motorists could feel persecuted by traffic officials carrying thick books with lists of potential offences – every one with a hefty price tag.

A recent case in the Gauteng Division of the High Court between the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality and one of its private contractors tasked to operate speed cameras shows to what extent law enforcement has evolved into a big and very lucrative industry.

The involvement of private companies that share in the income from traffic fines is, in itself, an indication that road safety might not be the primary goal here.

At issue in the case between Moving Violations Systems Phumelelo (MVS) and Joburg municipality was the payment of an outstanding “invoice” of more than R8 million for trapping speeding motorists with speed cameras. Or R50 million, according to a separate set of arguments made in the court documents.

Bonus payments for operator

The legal documents pertain to an appeal against a previous dismissal of a claim by MVS for payment of a “bonus” of R8 million for operating speed cameras leading into the Misgund interchange where the highways from Musina, Cape Town and Potchefstroom meet.

MVS’s responsibilities included the installation of speed cameras around the interchange, collecting photographic evidence of speeding, extracting the information and steering the cases through the court process. Up until 2009, such cases were prosecuted under the older Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, which made provision for two separate payments to MVS.

MVS received a fixed “initiation fee” when the speed violation was captured into the magistrate court’s system and a second “bonus” payment when the prosecution was successful and guilty motorists paid their fines.

The court documents state, and the court accepted, that the relationship between the municipality and MVS “amounts to the division of income generated by the traffic fines”.

It also accepted that MVS entered a large number of speeding violations into the Roodepoort magistrate court system for prosecution, all relating to the Misgund interchange.

‘Not entirely legal’

MVS received its cut of the revenue without delay, until a senior magistrate at the Roodepoort court realised that all the fines were not entirely legal. The magistrate ruled that the fines could not be prosecuted in the Roodepoort courts because the cameras were set up outside of the Roodepoort municipal border and MVS had been bringing its cases to the wrong court all along.

The precise number of fines is unknown, but is around 400 000 in total – all of which the Roodepoort magistrate dismissed with his verdict. At the time, MVS had received payment of its “bonus” of R8 million in respect of 200 000 of the speeding fines.

Despite the court ruling that these cases were legal nullities and that no fine revenue could be legally collected, MVS still argued that it was entitled to its bonus payment on the remaining 200 000 speeding tickets as if the fines had been paid.

The court documents indicate that MVS based its claim on the fact that it received the bonus payment when cases were dismissed, for instance if the court decided not to prosecute a case on compassionate grounds.

MVS argued that the court’s administrative system tagged all 400 000 cases as “withdrawn”, which is the same tag used when the court withdraws a case on compassionate grounds. MVS thus presented the municipality with an invoice for another R8 million for its bonus on the other 200 000 speeding tickets.

A twist in this tale

There is always a twist in the tail in court cases to confuse issues and ensure higher fees for the legal profession. The problem this time was that the claim for R8 million was not submitted on time. It was ruled that the debt had prescribed.

The parties nevertheless entered a process of arbitration, in which the municipality offered MVS its R8 million – and later R10 million at a second arbitration effort – to settle the matter.

Curiously, MVS had upped its claim to more than R50 million by then.

This was done on the basis of a request for an updated certificate of court cases from another private service provider, this time contracted to the Roodepoort court to manage its information technology systems. MVS issued the R50 million invoice on the strength of this certificate, referred to in court documents as “the dummy certificate”.

In pages of legalise the high court judges try to unravel if the R50 million invoice included the old R8 million, which might either make the whole claim invalid due to the issue of prescription, or, if it is a totally new invoice, only “relying on the quirk [of the information system] that deemed a prosecutorial withdrawal to be a paid matter”.

The court documents also reveal that MVS and the municipality did not have a formal contract, but relied on a letter of appointment and a list of key performance indicators. In the end, the high court dismissed the case – as had the lower courts and the lawyers involved in the two attempts of arbitration.

Good profit centre for municipalities

A look at municipal budgets confirms that enforcement of traffic regulations and the issuing of traffic tickets has grown into a huge and very profitable industry, with most municipalities relying on private companies to run these operations. The websites of these private companies indicate that they offer the whole array of services, including speed cameras, private traffic officers, administrative staff, the handling of prosecution, and debt collection.

The numbers are astounding: the City of Joburg’s recent medium term budget shows that it expects to collect R563 million in fines, penalties and forfeits in the current financial year.

Fines, penalties and forfeits are defined in municipal terms as “all compulsory receipts imposed by a court or quasi-judicial body. Out-of-court settlements are also included in this category”.

“As with taxes, this item consists of unrequited, compulsory transactions. Thus, the recipient government unit does not provide anything in return for these receipts.”

This income category would thus also include fines issued for illegal building work, stray animals and other offences.

The City of Cape Town’s 2018/2019 budget noted that the city expects revenue of R1.2 billion from this source. Even smaller municipalities rely heavily on fines and such income – for example, the municipality of Potchefstroom budgeted R85 million from fines and penalties in 2018/2019.

Strong measures

In addition, municipalities employ strong measures to collect their income from traffic fines.

Some municipalities link unpaid fines to their vehicle licensing departments and car owners cannot renew their vehicle licences if they have unpaid traffic fines.

Others, like George Municipality, contract a private company for a few weeks at least once a year to set up road blocks that use a number plate recognition camera. The camera reads the car’s registration number and checks the municipality’s database within seconds for outstanding warrants.

While a court prosecutor with a mini-van full of arrest warrants and a police officer in a police van are waiting, traffic officers offer people a lift to the closest ATM to draw money to pay the fine, or face immediate arrest.

George Municipality tries to conduct these road blocks towards the end of the year after people have received their annual bonuses to ensure that people are able to pay their fines.

Provincial traffic authorities are in keen competition with municipalities and often police the same stretch of road on the outskirts of larger towns and cities, sometimes using unmarked cars with hidden lights and sirens.

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Take for example the case of Beaufort West. Almost impossible to drive past that sh@thole without getting a ticket. And virtually nobody that drives through Beaufort West is close to his/her home and they know you can’t oppose any traffic violation in court because you don’t live there. And then they have the audacity to ask for donations for water every couple of years when the next drought hits. I say, buy yourself a lekker Coke with my traffic fine and good luck with the drought.

I have “survived” Beaufort West traffic fines for many years. It’s EASY:

I reduce my speed to 60kmh about FIFTY KMS outside town, either way *lol*

(Another option is to make use of….as pilots don’t stop for traffic infringements…)

And to folks at Arrive Alive….to prove that SPEED DOES NOT KILL….I’ve passed the town far above Beaufort West at 800kmh in airliners, surely I should’ve been dead by now?


Lainsburg has more Traffic traps than Street lights : They get you into , through and Leaving the place (thus in the space of about 2 minutes !).
The Fines make interesting Loo Paper !!

Danie, the Beafort West town is the most unfriendly town in this country. They go all out to trap honest citizens and make a living by doing so. You have to be really good not to get a fine in that town. No wonder their dams run dry. They suck people dry.

This is not really news. The traffic cops munching garage pies in the shade under bridges have absolutely zero interest in road safety. Instead, they are interested in making money, mostly for themselves, when they come up to your car and asking you for a cold drink. I got stopped in Richards Bay a while ago for allegedly skipping a stop street. The stop sign was on a steep onramp from a shopping centre to the public road, which kind of forces one to stop because of the slope. When I said to the so-called cop that I did stop, and that the two other adults in the car would testify in court, he became aggressive and told me to follow him to his car. There he berated me for being “unfriendly” and told me that he would not have given me the R2000 fine. I told him to his face that I would never pay it. Needless to say, I ignored it and never received anything more, no summons, nothing. This was 2 years ago.

Is there any evidence that this has contributed anything to road safety? Or is the money so collected ring fenced for road safety? What is the purpose of the law other wise for?

More fun for lawyers. Place onus on prosecution to prove capacity of “official” citing offence. Can you really “hire a cop” ?

This is the result of the failed “Speed Kills” policy introduced in 1998. In that year, there were 1.4m traffic fines issued and the fatality rate was 6.9 fatalities / 100mvk.

By 2006, the number of fines had reached nearly 5 million pa and the fatality rate had doubled.

The only effect of the current traffic enforcement regime has been to increase road risk by removing traffic officers from policing moving violations. Current traffic fine issuals exceed 10m pa, almost all of them for technical offences which have no impact on road safety.

The 2009 ILO report showed that 98.94% of all fines issued by the City of Joburg were for exceeding the speed limit. This is despite the RTMC’s own data showing that excessive speed is a factor in just 7% of fatal crashes. Meanwhile, NIMSS research revealed that 58% of drivers killed in traffic crashes are under the influence of alcohol at the time, at an average intoxication rate of four times the legal BAC limit. If one was expecting enforcement to be skewed in favour of offences that actually kill people, one would be disappointed.

In some municipalities, fines account for 50% of all revenue. The fact that these amounts are budgeted for means the government has no incentive to change driver behaviour. Quite the opposite: under AARTO, failing to wear a seatbelt doesn’t incur a demerit point, but failing to timeously renew one’s vehicle licence does. Road safety much?

If the traffic police were seriously interested in reducing fatalities, they’d launch a campaign against drivers with fake or fraudulently obtained driver’s licenses, as well as against unroadworthy vehicles. Given that about half of licenses are either fake or fraudulent, and many, many vehicles should not be on the road, this would also reduce traffic by at least 50% on the roads.

I recall seeing some stats that about one third of driving licences are not legally issued. This implies that when you’re driving on the road, between you, the vehicle in front and the vehicle behind you, there is an unlicensed or illegally licensed driver.

And, I recall, a certain Shubar Shaik receives a gratuity (used to be about R5) for every driving licence issued or renewed.

The Jhb Licencing Department, through the influence of Duduzane Zuma, did a deal a few years back with a Korean firm called TRAPEACE for Automatic Laser Speed Detection Systems cameras.

The deal saw Zuma earn a constant retainer and this deal like all the ones they mention on their website should be investigated for corruption.

JMPD = Zero bylaw enforcement. Check out what’s happening in Lenasia and surrounding suburbs. This happens everywhere on a smaller scale. They still have the gall to increase property values. Zero respect for ratepayers.

The only ‘law enforcement’ I’ve personally witnessed by JPMD is speed trapping and roadblocks to check for valid licence disks. Seems pretty obvious that this is a money-making racket. Meanwhile violations that can actually cause accidents and cost lives, like the epidemic of people running red lights, are ignored. And don’t get me started on mini-bus taxis, who appear to have total immunity, not only to commit the most heinous violations, like driving up the road side of the road in peak hour traffic, and stopping wherever the hell they feel like, but also to drive the most broken-down moving wrecks imaginable. If anything, they seem to take pride in it.

Much more concerning is where the money is coming from, used to work in a large office in SA a few years ago and there was not a SINGLE person who paid traffic fines, many were even slack about renewing thier licenses. With Soweto residents that dont even pay thier electricity bill eg, WHO ARE these muppets paying traffic fines TV licenses etc. This is africa guys…

We have no real traffic law enforcement. What we have is a tax on bad driving behavior. Enforcement is based on increasing revenue and reduced overhead. Really what they want is the squeaky clean, middle class person that perhaps strayed 10km over the speed limit or forgot to renew their license disk or couldn’t find a parking space. Quick and easy, they can send the fine in the mail…eventually. For the well off you can even set auto-pay for fines, so you don’t even need to be aware of the annoyance. There is no behavior rectification for serious offenders, it’s just too expensive to enforce and affects the bottom line.

Not that we needed proof, but here you are. Average citizens, world wide, are just a source of income. We aren’t cherished members of the human race, but sheep meant to give politicians power and put business tycoons in the position to gather the spoils. It is hard to accept our true role as enablers of the very same people, who will try their utmost best to keep the rest of us from playing on the field claimed by them. It is interesting to note how the psyche of people have changed the last few years as they try and come to grips with this realization. Anger, depression, violence, despair, drug abuse, disappointment have been on the rise. It’s, mostly, ineffectual coping mechanisms, but what is the alternative? Perhaps it is to get rid of politicians and business tycoons, who abuse their power only to advance themselves. Easier said than done, but ultimately and rightly the only way in which every citizen will have an equal claim to this earth.

Well said Batman. Most people try to avoid dealing with the bully boys in society. I believe there is an opportunity for small and medium enterprises and niche political parties.

Lots of moaning here, and legitimately so, but the fix for this unethical mess lies DIRECTLY in the hands of the ratepayers!

Raise the issue with the individual councillors and party in the meantime, and make it VERY CLEAR that if the municipal policy is not changed forthwith, then you and the rest of the ratepayers are going to be voting for a DIFFERENT set of councillors at the next municipal election (just round the corner anyway).

It absolutely amazes me how this unethical municipal road safety vs revenue hypocrisy is tolerated in DA led councils, but there you go! The Capitalists are ALL about the money, and NOT so much about the principles, huh?

Go figure!

End of comments.





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