Roadblocks: Know your Rights
We’ve all been there – you are on your way home from a breakfast-run when, suddenly, a police officer waves you down ordering you to pull to the side of the road – roadblock! Immediately, your throat tightens up, your heart rate increases and you become anxious – even a little tempted to drop a gear and make a run for it. But you have basic rights and you are allowed to exercise them.
Here’s what you need to know about your rights at a roadblock, noting that vehicle includes motorcycles, and driver includes rider.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
There are two kinds of roadblocks. The main difference between these two is the police’s ability and right to search your vehicle and person.
- Informal roadblocks: these roadblocks usually pop up on major roads and off-ramps. Their primary goal is to curb drunken driving, speeding or unroadworthy vehicles. They also usually check for outstanding fines. A search cannot be performed without a warrant unless the officer can prove extraordinary circumstances.
- K78 roadblocks: these roadblocks are approved by the National Police Commissioner. Police officers can search your vehicle and your person without a warrant. These roadblocks are usually set up to find a specific criminal or vehicle already on their radar.
Whenever a police officer requests to search your vehicle or person, you are legally allowed to ask them to provide you with a warrant or authorisation from the National Police Commissioner. Should the officer be unable to provide you with these documents, you can legally prevent them from conducting a search. This applies to both an informal and K78 roadblock.
WHAT COPS CAN DO
A police officer must be in full uniform when working at a roadblock. Officers are allowed to pull you over for any of the following reasons:
- To complete a routine check of the vehicle and the driver. Depending on the type of roadblock, they may request a full search.
- The driver committed a traffic offence like failing to stop at a stop street or speeding.
- The vehicle is suspected to be stolen or the vehicle is believed to contain criminal individuals or contraband.
At an informal roadblock
The officer is legally allowed to do the following:
- Request your driver’s licence and ID.
- Check for outstanding fines.
- Check the vehicle’s licence disk and ensure the car is roadworthy.
- If the officer requests to search the car, he/she must provide you with a copy of an official warrant stating the reason for the search. **
** Should an officer have reasonable grounds to perform a search without a warrant, and he/she can prove this in the court of law at a later stage, he/she may perform a search. A search can also be performed should the officer believe any delays would hamper a possible criminal investigation.
Should the officer suspect the driver is driving under the influence, the following steps may be taken:
- The driver may be requested to exit the vehicle.
- A breathalyser test may be requested. Should the driver refuse, the police can legally detain the driver and have blood tests done at the nearest police station.
At a K78 roadblock
The police can do the following by law:
- Search any vehicle or person without a warrant.
- Seize items from the vehicle or person should these be illegal or suspected to be linked to a crime.
- Should a police officer request to perform a body search, it is illegal for an officer of the opposite sex to search you.
A motorist can do the following by law:
- Members of the public are at liberty to ask for a copy of the written authorisation letter given by the National Police Commissioner. The authorisation letter must provide the following information to make it valid:
- The date of the authorised roadblock
- The duration of the roadblock
- The purpose of the roadblock
The South African Constitution makes no provision for cops to insist on the payment of fines on the spot. The only time you are legally obliged to pay a fine immediately is when the officer can provide you with a copy of the official warrant or summons.
Whenever you are stopped at a roadblock, the police can arrest you with or without a warrant under the following conditions:
- You are found to be driving under the influence.
- You have been driving recklessly, carelessly or dangerously.
- You are wilfully obstructing the roadway.
- You are found to be driving with a cancelled or disqualified licence.
- Police suspect you may have committed or are about to commit a crime.
- You verbally or physically abuse an officer. Any racial slurs, threats, crude gestures or physical contact could result in arrest. Also preventing an officer from doing their job is a criminal offence.
IF YOU FEEL UNSAFE
Oftentimes, especially late at night, drivers feel a bit warier about pulling over at a roadblock. Fortunately, there are steps to follow should you feel at all unsafe. It is important to remain calm and rational at all times.
- Call 10111 and inform them that you’re either being followed by a car with blue lights, or you feel unsafe pulling over at a roadblock.
- Provide the operator with a vehicle registration number if possible so they can verify whether the car is, in fact, a police vehicle.
- If you’re unable to get through to the 10111 call centre, slow down as much as you can, switch on your hazards, open your window and indicate with your arm that you would like the police vehicle to follow you – ensuring that you don’t exceed 40km/h. Drive to the nearest police station or petrol station where you’re in sight of people and CCTV cameras.
- Should you have already stopped at a roadblock, but feel threatened, you are at liberty to ask the officer for their badge number.
- Calmly inform the officer that you wish to call 10111 to confirm their badge number. If the officer becomes agitated, it is best to remain compliant. If necessary, you can submit a formal complaint at a later stage.
CAN I FILM THE POLICE?
Yes. Legally, you can film or photograph police officers at a roadblock. It is also illegal for officers to confiscate or damage your recording equipment or to force you to remove footage or images.
CAN I ASK FOR IDENTIFICATION?
Yes. Members of the public are legally allowed to ask a police officer to provide proof of identity by means of an identity card, badge number and/or appointment certificate.
To report a case of police brutality or if you suspect someone to not be an official officer, contact 10111 or submit a report to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
Sources: Automobile Association of SA, Arrive Alive, Criminal Procedure Act, Police Act