News from the AA: Blue Light Brigades a road safety threat in SA

The Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) convoys transporting politicians on the country’s roads – especially on major highways – continue to pose a road safety threat for all motorists, and their operation should be reviewed. The Automobile Association (AA) will be communicating with the Ministers of Police and Transport to have such a review of the so-called Blue Light Brigades instituted urgently.

The AA believes the Blue Light Brigades are, simply put, a threat to other drivers. There is growing anecdotal evidence that PPU drivers are aggressive to other road users, that they speed way above the applicable speed limits, that they swerve dangerously in and out of traffic, and that they disrespect other road users. But the blame is not only theirs; their passengers are as much to blame, if not more so, than they are.

Section 58(3) of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) permits drivers of emergency vehicles such as traffic officers and duly authorised drivers, as well as particularly a “person appointed in terms of the South African Police Service Act who drives a vehicle in the carrying out of his or her duties” to disregard the directions of a road traffic sign displayed in the prescribed manner. Regulation 176 of the NRTA further states that drivers on the road are supposed to give an absolute right of way to a vehicle sounding a device or bell or displaying an identification lamp.

Any driver who drives recklessly or is careless about the safety of other users on the road can be held liable for gross negligence where they pose a threat to property or another person whether they were driving a politician, delegate, VIP, or a car fitted with a blue light, just like any other road user.

While we appreciate that this regulation is intended to deal with emergencies and to give authorities the road space they need to deal with these. But to invoke this legislation to transport VIPs at high speeds, with a total disregard of traffic laws, is not only unacceptable it’s dangerous. Road users should not be bullied off the road or to be forced to give right of way when it is not safe to do so. The law protects the safety of the road user first.

We are of the view that such behaviour negates any attempts by government to address the country’s high annual road death numbers. It notes that if Blue Light Brigades are allowed to continue operating as they do now – unchecked and out of control – government has no moral place to speak about the national road safety crisis in South Africa.

Lastly, if politicians – and members of the Cabinet – speak on road safety, and the need to deal effectively with the carnage on the country’s roads, they must also obey the rules of the road and instruct their drivers to do the same. When Blue Light Brigades exceed speed limits, and drive dangerously and recklessly on the country’s roads, the message is that rules don’t apply to them, and the safety of other road users doesn’t matter to them.

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