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Thu Sep 29 00:11:15 SAST 2016

Certainty of being brought to book the best deterrent

The Times Editorial | 13 January, 2016 08:30

A sharp rise in the number of deaths caused by road accidents during the festive season has prompted our traffic authorities to propose Draconian countermeasures.

If Transport Minister Dipuo Peters gets her way, an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act will result in serious road traffic violations being reclassified as Schedule 5 offences.

The upshot of this is that alleged offenders would be allowed to apply for bail only after spending seven days in jail - and would face stiff mandatory minimum sentences for crimes such as culpable homicide and reckless and negligent driving.

At first glance the iron fist approach makes sense. Year after year, far too many families are gutted by the never-ending torrent of fatal road accidents caused by imbecilic driving and drunken pedestrians.

Despite a large-scale crackdown, thousands of arrests and repeated safety warnings the death toll this festive season rose to 1755 - 220 more than in 2014.

Although mandatory minimum sentences for the most serious offences could be an effective deterrent - fines being merely a slap on the wrist for the rich - denying bail to people only suspected of being road hogs is unduly harsh and likely to further slow the already pedestrian pace of the justice system.

Surely special traffic courts, capable of hearing cases almost immediately and empowered to hand down far tougher sentences, would be a more effective solution.

Whatever approach is chosen, the certainty of getting caught, and of being brought to justice, would be the biggest deterrent.

To achieve this will require far more than toughening the sentencing regimen.

Corruption, starting at the licensing departments at which would-be motorists routinely buy their licences, and the wholesale bribing of traffic officers, would have to be rooted out.

The practice of dodging justice by paying ''cool-drink'' money at the side of the road is pervasive enough to undermine any law.

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