|Law enforcement and traffic officials have questioned the introduction of an SMS service that could help drunken drivers and even criminals to avoid roadblocks and police spot checks in KwaZulu-Natal.
The service, known as Get Road Smart, which is being run by Belgian company ERTi, was launched in the province this month.
Previous methods used by motorists to avoid being caught in roadblocks and by speed cameras include navigation systems that detect roadblocks, jammers that confuse speed-reading equipment and a spray that makes a number plate unreadable by a speed camera.
The introduction of the service came after the national Road Traffic Management Corporation released accident statistics on Monday that showed that the highest number of road fatalities in the country was recorded in KZN.
According to the statistics, 125 people have been killed on KZN roads since the beginning of the month.
Road Traffic Management spokesperson Ntau Letebele said most accidents were caused by driver fatigue, drink-driving, speeding, jay-walking pedestrians and burst tyres. Statistics from the KZN transport department showed that more than 400 people were arrested for drink-driving from December 1 to 14.
With the new service motorists pay a monthly subscription fee of R50 and receive an SMS about police spot checks or roadblocks where police are testing for drink-driving or speeding.
The service is available in Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Italy and was launched in the United Kingdom earlier this month.
However, senior KZN law enforcement and traffic officials have condemned the service, saying law-abiding motorists do not need to avoid roadblocks.
Metro police operations deputy head Titus Malaza said he was shocked to hear about the service.
“With so many deaths on the road, this service would allow people to drink and then avoid a roadblock and take a different route, where they may cause an accident and kill people. I don’t know what these people are trying to achieve.”
Malaza said the service would hamper law enforcement efforts to change the behaviour of drivers.
The service would probably not be very effective at this time of year, he added.
“We have roving roadblocks where officers are stationed in an area for one hour and then moved to another area. So by the time the sms goes out, our officers might already have moved.”
KZN Road Traffic Inspectorate head John Schnell said the inspectorate would have to change its tactics to counter the service.
Transport and community safety and liaison MEC Bheki Cele questioned its legality.
“While people can talk about roadblocks among themselves, I don’t think it is legal for someone to try to make money out of it. I suspect strongly that this service would be defeating the ends of justice as it will allow dangerous criminals to bypass the Morpho touch (criminal record detection) system that is used in roadblocks. So I will be getting my legal team to look at it,” said Cele.
ERTi managing director Vincent Parisis said: “I launched the service in KZN because I have personal connections there and if it does well we will move it to other regions in the country. We already have quite a few subscribers in the province.”
Parisis said that once an alert was received, an SMS was sent out to subscribers almost immediately.
He said the service received information about roadblocks from internet chat rooms, community blogs and subscribers.
Parisis acknowledged that the service was controversial but said it was legal.
“We are offering a service to sober people so they do not lose time stuck in a roadblock. There is always the risk that the service will be used wrongly. But we are not extremely specific about where the roadblock is and our legal team assures me the service is legal in KZN.”
Prevention messages such as “Speed kills” or “Don’t drink and drive” were also sent in the roadblock SMS, he added.
In Europe, the company worked with taxi companies, and subscribers used the SMS service to get a taxi if they were too drunk to drive.