It has become a fairly common site on our roads to see cars with brightly lit white LED lights on during daylight hours, especially amongst those nice luxury cars that some people are lucky enough to be able to afford. You may have even thought to yourself, “hey, that’s a great idea and I want them too.”
After all, are we not being encouraged to “lead with lights” by LEADSA and have the Department of Transport and the Automobile Association of SA, as well as multiple other parties not regularly asked motorists to drive with their lights on – especially during Easter and Christmas holiday periods – supposedly because doing so contributes to road safety?
So why is it that you think that I would be writing this article, given that visibility is a no-brainer in my and so many other people’s opinions? Well read on and you will see why.
For and against
It is a fact that driving with your headlights on increases visibility and some countries have even made this law from as far back as 1977, long before LED running lights were even thought of or practical.
But critics of this practice have made claims (backed up by some scientific fact) that doing so increases fuel consumption where these lights are incandescent lights – as (almost) all headlights are. LEDs consume a fraction of the power of incandescent lights, so there goes that argument out of the window. It has also been (justifiably) claimed that this makes motorcyclists less visible to other traffic.
Then of course, there are those detractors who like to cite the fact that South Africa is not in the northern hemisphere where days are dark and weather conditions are generally inclement.
Their arguments may carry some weight but what all of these arguments fail to take into account is that visibility is most certainly a huge factor in preventing unnecessary crashes where one or the other party simply “doesn’t see” the other.
Facts are facts
It is a provable fact that upwards of 34% of all people killed on our roads are pedestrians, so surely making motor vehicles more visible to them may just prevent the odd one or two from running across freeways and other roads, thus becoming one of these statistics and earning you a criminal record of culpable homicide in the process. And this is without even taking into account the fact that vehicles of all sizes regularly crash into one another – seemingly because they “don’t see” one another.
I agree with those who say opening one’s eyes and concentrating on the task at hand whilst driving would be a fantastic place to start, but there is a lot to be said for making oneself visible too and I find it really difficult to agree with those who say that greater visibility is “distracting” etc.
If you are not lucky enough to have one of those new cars with DRL’s fitted as standard equipment, you may have noticed that you can buy a whole heap of different aftermarket products, ranging from properly housed running lamp kits to strips of stick-on LED’s which you can fit to your car.
If you go into almost any motor spares or electronics shop, you will find an extensive range of these things ranging in price from around R40 a pair to R1000 or more, depending on what you choose.
You may even be told how to wire them up and informed that all of them are 100% legal, but here is a wake-up call for you. Not in South Africa they are not! That is unless they are a specific DRL kit, supplied with the appropriate harness which turn on when your car starts and turn off when your headlights come on or your motor is switched off. And even though they are inexpensive and tempting, the simple stick-on LED strips are not legal unless they comply with the appropriate regulations; and that is that.
What the law says
Regulation 161A of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2000 makes provision for daytime running lamps, which may be fitted to any motor vehicle except a trailer (not that I have seen any motorised trailers) but they have to (paraphrased):
- Turn on your rear lights when they are in operation. Reg 161(3)(a)
- Turn off automatically when you turn your headlights on. Reg 161(3)(b)
Now, unless you are an auto electrician or are prepared to cough up the loot to have one fit proper daytime running lamps for you properly, you will be sure to contravene the National Road Traffic Regulations and that will get you into a sticky position – all because you wanted to be more visible.
Watch yourself – This is a money spinner for over-zealous cops!
If the traffic cops catch you with DIY fitted daytime running lamps that do not comply with the specifications laid down in the regulations and/or SABS 1046 and 1376, they will fine you for having “unauthorised lamps” fitted and any attempt to appeal the fine will fail.
Such was the case with a recent incident that came to my attention where a “foreign” gentleman was given a whopping R1250 fine for having white LEDs fitted to the front of his car just below his headlamps. Not the blue or green strips like you see on so many “dress me up” cars, white ones – just under his headlights.
The fine he was given was completely inappropriate for the class of vehicle he owns but that too did not seem to bother the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) who both rejected his representation and then further upheld the original rejection when I appealed this judgement on his behalf. I was then advised by Advocate Ntsotso of the RTIA to inform the alleged infringer to elect to be tried in court if I and he were not happy with his considered determination.
Not happy? You better believe it!
Damn right I am not happy with Advocate Ntsotso’s determination and damn right I have advised the alleged infringer to be tried in court which is exactly what he has done. Why you may ask?
Well for starters – if the RTIA wanted to uphold the infringement notice on the basis that these LEDs are unauthorised, then that would be one thing and as petty as it is, it would have been difficult to argue against what the law says.
But the fact is that this man drives a Mazda Etude, which is a light motor vehicle and the over-zealous cop that wrote this citation gave him a fine applicable to a vehicle which requires an operator card – i.e. one that weighs over 3,500kg.
Secondly, it is more than apparent on the infringement notice that it was adjusted to increase the fine amount and one can only assume that this was a racist and/or xenophobic move on the part of the cop given the fact that the recipient was an Indian national.
The correct charge code for this class of vehicle is 2597 which carries with it a fine of R750 (discounted to R375) and the only plausible reason that this was adjusted to use 2598 was because the cop concerned had a chip on his shoulder and/or wanted to be vindictive, or indeed had some other agenda since it is unlikely that he would see any part of the additional income generated by it.
Besides which, an AARTO 01 is a legal document and no alterations are allowed on legal documents – at least that has been my understanding since I was a cop so many years ago where a simple dot in the wrong place could invalidate a document. But this did not bother the cop, the RTMC AARTO unit who captured the infringement notice electronically or the RTIA and that, to my mind makes a mockery of the professionalism of all three parties involved.
Highlighting the dangers of “Administrative Justice”
This will most certainly go to court as advised by those who had the opportunity to undo this grave injustice and petty law enforcement exercise and in doing so negated the entire purpose of bringing in an administrative process in the first place.
There is no Magistrate in this country who will uphold this inappropriate charge, just like there is none that would uphold a charge of murder because you accidentally step on an ant on the pavement. I also doubt if there is a Magistrate that will uphold the charge, even if it were correct as most thinking people do see greater visibility as a positive influence on road safety.
The “judge, jury and executioner” process of the RTIA is untennable and whilst I must say that I have previously enjoyed far greater fairness on the part of the RTIA when helping other parties, it only takes one unjust and nonsensical judgement to taint the entire process.
Let us remember that very few people come to JPSA for assistance in the big scheme of things and if the RTIA can make a determination as skewed as this one knowing our reputation, one has to wonder what they are doing to the general public!
Legislation can achieve the exact opposite to the desired result
There can be no doubt that legislation is a fundimental requirement to provide a framework for behaviour, enforcement and prosecution but one does have to wonder whether legislators always understand the problems at hand.
The legislation surrounding daylight running lamps is just one example of how counter-productive legislation can prove to be and the AARTO process is another example of how things can become skewed by poorly thought out legislation.
And before anyone points a finger at me and say’s “but isn’t this the same guy that said AARTO must be rolled out without further delay just a short time ago?” please just bear in mind that what I have said is that a points demerit system is urgently required and amendments to the existing regulations must be made before it is rolled out.
What the AA has to say about this matter
When I spoke to Gary Ronald of the Automobile Association of South Africa, he too agreed with me that this was ludicrous and he pledged his and the AA’s support on this matter; so it is not only me and JPSA that is going to make a stink about this matter. The AA is 100% with us on this one.
“The AA will be taking up what is clearly a deficiency in the Regulations with the Department of Transport. Being visible on the road is without a doubt a major contributor to crash prevention – this applies as much to pedestrians as it does to vehicles. The AA suggests that a moratorium on prosecutions for Daytime Running Lights until the Regulation has been amended should be put in place immediately.” said Gary Ronald, Head of Public Affairs at the AA.
“On the issue of RTIA representations, the AA has long warned of the impartiality of the agency and still believes that an independent arbitrator should fulfill that role” he added.
I have very little problem with the concept of “Zero Tolerance” but I do have a problem with petty nonsense. The previous focus of the TMPD and JMPD on SABS approved warning triangles being carried in light motor vehicles was petty enough but to now focus on nailing people who try to make their vehicles more visible is a clear indictment that they are a bunch of money-hungry predators with no interest in road safety and have lost sight of what their responsibilities to the country and all road users are.
By all means check for lights and indicators that don’t work, unauthorised blue lights etc. but for goodness sake stop showing how incredibly petty and disinterested in true road safety you are.
Just as they want to adopt an approach of pseudo zero tolerance, I and this organisation will adopt the same attitude with them. If they want to get petty and want to make things up as they go along, then that cannot reasonably expect us, the AA and other organisations or members of the public to tolerate their abusive behaviour.
When we try to put things right and the RTIA rejects these attempts in favour of not depriving their business partners (the traffic authorities) of undeserved income, they exacerbate the problem and in doing so negate the entire need for their existence.
Similarly, if the RTIA are going to advise people to be tried in court because they are incapable of making a sound and just decision then there is absolutely no point in making representation to them in the first place since one can simply elect to be tried in court up front and save the time and extra postage fees wasted on representations.
I am also pretty sure that this will add fuel to the fire of those detractors who say that AARTO is a sham and should not come into play and that our courts will continue to be “overburdened with petty road traffic offences” as has been cited by the legislators themselves as well as frustrated prosecutors who are equally sick of the incompetence of traffic officers.
The net result of course is that people will continue to die on our roads and long speeches, knee-jerk reactions and focus on what they should be doing all the time on the part of the authorities will continue to be the order of the day.
By Howard Dembovsky, JPSA