Stop! The pitfalls of loadshedding traffic might be worse than you think.

October 19, 2023
Witz Loadshedding

With load-shedding being an ever present feature of our lives, and South Africans being as resilient and solutions driven as we are, its not a surprise to see some of the innovative ways that people are getting around the challenges which load-shedding present. Commuting in early morning or late afternoon traffic is undeniably frustrating, and load-shedding and robot intersections which are not operational due to interrupted power supply, can exacerbate the problem to an almost cataclysmic extent, causing additional massive stress for all road users.  

Enter those who are often seen at intersections, who sleep rough or are often seen begging for work, food or money or even performing magic-tricks – now taking up the mantle of directing traffic.

There are 2 categories of people commonly seen at intersections directing traffic:

  • The first – metro police or SAPS officers, who are uniformed, and are legally permitted to direct traffic.
  • The second – generally unknown as to qualification, but often the homeless, or people who can be founding begging for money or food at various intersections in our cities and metros.

On the one hand, it is an undeniable relief for traffic to begin to flow again so we can all get to our destinations, however, it cannot be overlooked that the people (other than SAPS or metro police officers) who are found directing traffic at an intersection have absolutely no qualification to do so, other than they are observers of the traffic which passes them by, as they seek money, food or other relief from motorists who drive past them. In the interests of ensuring that we all get to where we want to be on time, it is often tempting to “put foot” and proceed through the intersection duly directed by the person in question. The question is, however, what happens if you have an accident (or worse, if someone is injured) at such an intersection, which may be argued to have been caused by a mis-direction, issued either by the SAPS / metro police officer OR the unqualified person directing traffic?

It is important to point out, as a starting point, that one must obey a traffic direction issued by the SAPS or metro police officer. SAPS and metro police officers are uniformed, and are specifically trained to direct traffic. The Minister of Police also assumes vicarious liability in the case of an unwitting error by such an individual, should there be an accident which is occasioned by an error in which an officer was culpable or if they made a mistake resulting in harm.

Vicarious liability is where an employer assumes the risk on behalf of their employee, where that employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment.

This means that if you are insured, your insurer may be able to claim from the government if there is an incident of wrongdoing, and recover any loss from them – this has the resultant effect of reducing your insurance premiums, and you may even be able to recover your excess from your insurer if they are successful in their efforts to recover the claim which they have paid out to you. If you are uninsured, you can institute a claim of your own, via an attorney, against the Minster, for any damages which you have suffered as a result of the conduct of the SAPS or metro police officers.

It is most important to bear in mind that, when following the directions of a person other than a SAPS or metro police official, at a robot controlled intersection, and an accident is caused, whilst liability factually may rest on the shoulders of the person directing the traffic, the likelihood of you being able to recover from people who sleep-rough, or are begging for food and money, may be totally impossible due to the fact that they cannot pay your claim, even if you are successful in holding them liable. This means that you (or your insurer as the case may be), cannot claim against the person directing the traffic, and may also not be able to claim against another driver if they were not negligent in causing the accident.

What this means, is that in spite of the person standing in the intersection directing traffic’s well intentioned direction, one must still follow the rules of the road at a robot-controlled intersection where there are no lights. This means stopping to check whether the intersection is clear prior to entering the intersection, before proceeding. Exercising caution is critical to ensure that you and your asset (your car) is protected from harm.