A R131 million three-year traffic policing project, currently under way on Johannesburg’s roads, has nearly doubled the number of motorists who pay their traffic fines.

Johannesburg Metro Police director for licensing, prosecutions and courts Gerrie Gernecke says compliance has gone from 28%, before three vendors were contracted to provide the city with an “integrated end-to-end infringement management system”, to more than 50%.

“We pay R30 to R35 per prosecutable photo” – with the fines ranging from R200 upwards.

The city last year awarded the contract to Traffic Management Technology SA, Syntell and Moving Violation Systems. The latter company, along with Traffic Payment Solutions and Undercover Technical Risk Security Services, has an additional R5 million-a-year contract to serve summonses on fine defaulters.

“They make good money, we make good money, but is not just about that,” says Gernecke. “With this system, motorists are regaining their respect for the law,” Gernecke adds, stating the jump in compliance as substantiation.

He says effective law enforcement is a cornerstone of road safety, especially in a city where reckless or negligent drivers kill many innocent pedestrians and motorists.

Transport minister Jeff Radebe earlier this month said more than 15 000 people die on SA’s roads every year, while 60 000 are seriously injured. “These accidents cost the country approximately R46 billion per annum,” he added.

The technology

Gernecke notes that the technology gives the Metro Police the ability to clamp down on speedsters and those who attempt to evade the law by hiding behind false number plates.

He says up to 10 000 vehicles in the city could have false number plates. At a recent roadblock, where number plate recognition technology was employed, three out of every nine cars were found displaying false plates. The drivers were arrested.

“Cameras are freely available the world over,” Gernecke says of the equipment deployed at roadblocks to identify people pulled over by the Metro Police. “The secret is developing the databases, the software that does the interfacing.”

Syntell MD Mark Chewings says it and the other companies have developed a comprehensive library of false plates for use at roadblocks. “A lot of people are driving around with false plates. We know they are false because they are captured speeding and when we go to eNatis [the electronic National Traffic Information System] we see it is not a [BMW] M5 but a [Volkswagen] Beetle. We then read that plate into the database and when the JMPD stops an M5 with that plate at a roadblock, they serve the fine.

“People do it because, up to now, they could get away with it. As the JMPD’s technology partner, we are helping them close the net on some of these serial offenders.”

Chewings says the system employs a digital camera coupled to a computer loaded with number plate recognition software, which runs the number plates read against a number of databases.

The system also checks for outstanding warrants of arrest tagged against the vehicle and trawls the national police’s database of reported stolen vehicles.

Gernecke says the system is also helping to update eNatis and, in particular, assists in updating addresses. One of the reasons traffic fines go unpaid is because the motorists’ address reflected on eNatis is often incorrect or false.

High-speed chases

In the field of high-speed law enforcement – where cars race at more than 180km/h – the metro police department backs up its laser cameras with radar as that category of speedster often possesses a laser jammer.

Gernecke’s officers also put a number plate recognition system in place well ahead of the trap area to identify serial offenders as they approach. “We then know if it is a suspected stolen vehicle or a speedster we’d like to apprehend.”

Gernecke says the metro police also have special chase vehicles with suitably qualified drivers to intercept this class of motorist, who is then arrested and only released after a court appearance. A photo of the speedster’s vehicle, showing the speed measurement, can be transmitted from the camera to the chase vehicle to provide evidence of the offence.

Chewings adds that the system can also detect laser jammers – which are illegal – and several motorists have been arrested after being caught in possession of such devices.