Blue-light ministers face jail time

Helen Zille describes ­government convoys bearing blue lights as a 'bully brigade recklessly ignoring the law'. (Gallo)

Helen Zille describes ­government convoys bearing blue lights as a 'bully brigade recklessly ignoring the law'. (Gallo)

The Democratic Alliance-led provincial government wants to ban the use of blue lights on the province's roads unless there is an identified threat or danger to the safety or life of a passenger.

This is revealed in the draft regulation called the Restrictions on the Use of Lamps Emitting a Blue Light and Use of Sirens Regulations.

The regulation, seen by the Mail & Guardian, will be published for ­comment next week, and follows the passing of the province's "Blue Lights" Bill in December last year.

It proposes the prevention of the use of blue lights and sirens by convoys transporting or escorting political office bearers and other VIPs on Western Cape roads in cases where there is no emergency.

"This regulation – read with the regulation dealing with offences – will mean that if a minister orders that the driver drive the vehicle with a siren on or with a blue light being emitted and there is no threat to the safety or life of the office bearer or VIP, then such person who gives the order also commits an offence and can be charged," reads the document.

Those convicted will face the prospect of a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.

An "office bearer" refers to a deputy president, a member of the National Assembly, a premier, an MEC, a member of the provincial legislature, and traditional leaders, among others. The president is not an office bearer and is exempt from the ban.

Visiting heads of state
Robin Carlisle, the Western Cape MEC for transport and public works said that, apart from the president, those who were exempted from the ban included visiting heads of state, the Pope or "an equal of such".

The scope of the regulation does not include the use of lights and sirens by drivers of construction vehicles, medical emergency vehicles and fire fighting vehicles, or the use of lights and sirens during the course of carrying out general ­policing functions.

The Western Cape provincial legislature passed the controversial Western Cape Provincial Road Traffic Administration Act, informally known as the Blue Lights Bill, in December 2012 and the Act required the transport MEC to draft the regulations.

A proclamation to bring the Act into operation was signed by Premier Helen Zille in April and the provincial government wanted the Act to come into operation on June 1, but there have been delays in the publishing of the regulations and it is not clear when the Act will come into operation.

This week, Zille said there had been numerous incidents of the blue-light "bully brigade recklessly ignoring the law on our roads in contravention of the National Road Traffic Act, which states that blue lights may only be used in cases of emergency.

"This provision has been abused by self-important ministers and MECs who think being late for a meeting or missing a flight constitutes an emergency when, in fact, it's just bad planning.

"Such incidents of speeding and red robot-jumping by blue-light brigades reflect a disregard for the rule of law and contempt for the public," said Zille.  

Zille said there was a strong possibility that the DA would table a private members' Bill in the National Assembly on the matter, as much of the public in the rest of the country would support these measures being in place where they live.

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