'No bail for road hogs'
Motorists accused of serious traffic offences could find themselves behind bars for seven days before being allowed to apply for bail.
And, if convicted, they will face new mandatory minimum sentences. That is if a plan by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters comes to fruition.
Peters wants serious traffic infringements to be listed as Schedule 5 offences in the Criminal Procedure Act. She said at a briefing that the festive season death toll was 1755 - 220 more than the figure reported in the same period last year.
"Enough is enough. One would think that South Africa was at war," Peters said.
Despite intensified road safety awareness campaigns, including displaying the wrecks of crashed vehicles alongside busy roads, the number of fatal crashes increased by 11% - from 1253 in 2014 to 1387 last year.
Jay-walking, speeding, drunken driving and dangerous overtaking were factors in most of the fatalities.
Peters said she would push for the reclassification of traffic offences to Schedule 5 of the Criminal Procedure Act and for mandatory minimum sentences for drunken driving, and inconsiderate, reckless and negligent driving.
Criminal law expert Llewellyn Curlewis said Schedule 5 covered serious offences such as murder, culpable homicide and rape.
If Peters' proposal were implemented it would be much more difficult for alleged traffic offenders to get bail, Curlewis said.
They would have to show that exceptional circumstances justified their release on bail.
"The onus is on the accused to [convince] the court that it is in the interests of justice that he be granted bail," Curlewis said.
He said in cases involving Schedule 5 offences the state could ask for a seven-day adjournment for further investigation, such as to confirm the address of the accused.
But, he said, in practical terms reclassifying traffic offences would clog the judicial system, would be expensive and would require additional manpower.
Peters said she could "not sleep peacefully when thousands of our road users are mowed down on our roads by irresponsible road users".
"We cannot have peace of mind when innocent children are left in a state of agony, of permanent emotional and psychological torture, while awaiting the arrival of their parents who will never make it back home alive," she said.
The chairman of the Road Traffic Management Corporation, Zola Majavu, said being caught for a road traffic violation was too often regarded as nothing more than a temporary inconvenience because those caught speeding, for example, would pay a fine, or get bail immediately, or within 12 hours, and be released.
In an indirect reference to Nkosinathi Maphumulo, aka DJ Black Coffee, who was caught travelling at 200km/h on the West Rand on Christmas Eve, Majavu said: "It [the reclassification of road traffic offences] is going to be a major deterrent because even if you are some DJ you won't be able to pay bail and continue with your trip.
"The amendment would serve as a deterrent because people would know that they will not be able to get to their next gig."
Maphumulo was released on R1000 bail hours after his arrest.
But Justice Project SA spokesman Howard Dembovsky said Peters' proposal was tantamount to using an iron fist to swat a fly and treating the symptoms instead of the disease.
He said the major cause of delinquency on the roads was the incredibly low conviction rate.
Dembovsky said the minister's statement was "stupid, irrational and emotional".
"The problem with emotional statements like this is that they tend to exclude the facts. The fact is that convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol are very low."
Dembovsky said reclassification of traffic offences would result in a rise in civil claims and the prospect of motorists being detained for an extended period would be a strong incentive for bribery.
"Successful drink-driving intervention has proved that it is not the harshness of the sentence that carries weight, it is how quickly the case reaches finality and the penalty handed down," Dembovsky said.