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Police blitz on turning right at robot-controlled intersections
Business Information Zimbabwe
May, 2007

Given recent reports about 'arrests' of motorists for exiting robot-controlled intersections to the right when the red light facing you is showing, we thought members might find the following helpful - both for yourself and your family and staff.

First, a little homily. There is little doubt that the quality of driving in Zimbabwe is generally poor, particularly at intersections. There are many reasons for this. However, an honest review of one's own driving may well lead to the sobering conclusion that each of us has become lax - not merely other drivers. In that context, policing the roads and enforcing the rules of the road, while sometimes personally inconvenient, can only be a good thing.

The Highway Code has remarked variously over the years that the motor vehicle has contributed much to a better way of living but a more violent way of dying, a vehicle is a good means of transport but a dangerous weapon in the hands of reckless people and should you be involved in a killing or maiming - and the possibility is high - you may be haunted all your life. Moving at speed, armoured within a metal body, motorists often feel invincible. But in any collision between metal and flesh, metal always wins. Inconvenient interventions by the police may be a small price to pay to keep oneself and other people intact.

The reported abuse of power by 'auxiliaries' at police stop points, and your possible responses within the law, are discussed at the end of this bulletin.

We start with our interpretation of relevant extracts from the Rules of the Road Regulations, contained in extracts from the most recent edition of The Highway Code that are reproduced later in this bulletin.

Turning right at robot-controlled intersections

The Code states that when approaching a robot, you should be prepared to bring your vehicle to a gentle halt. This is a particularly significant principle - braking to an abrupt halt or 'shooting the lights' on the amber (or, worse, the red) means you were not prepared to bring your vehicle to a gentle halt. In the official view, you thereby put yourself and others at risk of accident.

If the green light is showing, you 'shall' (this word in the regulations means you 'must', i.e. not 'may') proceed across the stop line - subject to taking all necessary precautions. We take this proviso to mean you should use your common sense - don't bulldoze ahead regardless of other traffic, pedestrians and so on.

If you judge it unlikely that you can completely cross the stop line while the green light is showing, remain behind the stop line and wait for the next green light.

Obviously, this means that you should not attempt to cross the stop line when the amber light is showing.

And crossing the stop line when the red light is showing is considered 'criminally dangerous', according to the Code.

Once you have entered the intersection on the green light, intending to turn right, you must give way to oncoming traffic in the straight ahead lane, since you must not turn in front of oncoming traffic.

Generally, at wide multi-lane intersections, where there is oncoming traffic, this will mean that two vehicles can safely enter and stop in the intersection, waiting to turn right.

If oncoming traffic follows the same principles as those set out above, and vehicles wait behind the stop line as their signal turns to amber, the lights will change to green in the direction you are now travelling as you exit the intersection.

Have you broken the law? No.

This can be confirmed by studying the following extracts from The Highway Code, Volume 1, 2006: published by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe: Harare. (Remember when you had to study the Code, not merely read it?)

Copies of The Highway Code may be purchased from the offices of the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe - in Harare to be found at 37 Selous Avenue/Fifth Street, phone 751203, 751208, 728024, 705735. The price on 23rd May 2007 was $57 500.

In the interests of focusing attention on the essentials relevant to turning right at robot-controlled intersections, certain words have been omitted in the following extracts. These omissions are indicated by three dots ( . . . )

Explanatory comments are inserted, where appropriate.

Extracts from The Highway Code

p.8 'Remember a red light . . . does not give anyone a right of way - it only takes certain rights away from the traffic facing them.'

p.10 'The Robot - If traffic at the junction you are approaching is controlled by a robot (traffic lights), the instruction conveyed by these devices overrides all others, except those of a policeman controlling traffic. Briefly:

  • You STOP on the RED AND AMBER
  • You may GO on the GREEN
  • You may follow the GREEN ARROW.'

'Entering and Negotiating Junctions

Do not enter a junction unless you are satisfied not only that you have the right to enter the junction but also that it is safe to do so.'

'Never TURN RIGHT in front of ONCOMING traffic.'

p.11 'How to Turn

If you wish to make . . . a right turn, here is how you do it:

1. Get into the correct position. (i.e. as far to the RIGHT of your side of the carriageway as possible - p.7 of the Code)
2. Signal in good time.
3. Make a smooth turn right of the centre spot or follow guide lines if marked.'

pp.25-26 'The Robot

When approaching a Robot, make sure you are in the correct traffic lane for the course you wish to follow, and be prepared to bring your vehicle to a gentle halt.

By means of coloured light signals, the Robot directs road users to behave in the manner as outlined in the following extract from the regulations:'

Comment Regulations have the force of law. You commit an offence if you disobey them, The relevant Rules of the Road Regulations were published in Statutory Instrument (SI) Number 308 of 1974, as amended by SI's 20/1984, 126/1987, 89/1988, 206/1988, 20/1994, 76/1996, 171/1999 and 299/2002.

'Meaning of light indications

The directions given by the lights of any robot shall be -

(a) Red - subject to the provisions of para (e) (below), no vehicle facing the signal shall cross the stop line.
(b) Green - all vehicles facing the signal shall, subject to due precaution being taken, proceed straight ahead or to the left or to the right: Provided that the movement is not contrary to any specific regulatory sign.
(c) Amber (when in a light sequence) - no vehicle facing the signal shall cross the stop line unless - when the amber light first appears after the green light, or green arrow, as the case may be - the vehicle is so close to the stop line that a stop cannot safely be made behind such stop line, in which case the vehicle shall proceed subject to due precaution being taken.
(d) Amber (fixed or flashing when not in a light sequence) - all vehicles proceeding across the stop line shall do so with caution; and at an intersection or junction shall give precedence to traffic approaching on the road on the right hand side.
(e) Green arrow - all vehicles facing the signal shall, subject to due precaution being taken, proceed straight ahead, or to the left or to the right as indicated by the arrow, notwithstanding any indication given by any other lens illuminated at the same time:

Provided that -

(i) where the green arrow pointing to the left or to the right is illuminated in conjunction with the red lens, traffic facing the signal shall give precedence to other traffic within the intersection or junction;
(ii) no green arrow pointing to the left or the right shall be illuminated in conjunction with the green lens, unless all other traffic at an intersection or junction is facing a red light.'

'The full sequence of robot lights might not be justified at all hours and the amber light may be shown alone. Under these circumstances, vehicles entering the intersection shall exercise particular caution and shall give precedence to all traffic approaching from a road on the right hand side.'

Comment: There exists a common - and understandable - misconception that late at night where there is no other traffic it is permissible to proceed through a red robot, in the interests of personal security. As far as we know, this is not provided for in law. We suggest that any person travelling in such circumstances, when traffic is minimal, should rather adjust his or her speed and gear changes to ensure that while they keep moving at all times they time their approach to ensure they can safely proceed through the robot-controlled intersection on the green light. It requires the development of some judgment and skill in casting one's eyes ahead to read the signs but it is a safer course than 'running the red'.

'Remember it is an offence to enter a robot controlled intersection in a straight ahead lane if traffic conditions are such that you are unlikely to be able to proceed through the intersection without having to stop.'

Comment: This provision is intended to avoid the feared traffic gridlock, where an intersection is blocked in all four directions.

'When you move forward on the green light, give consideration to pedestrians crossing with the light and stop if necessary.'

'Disobeying the instruction of a robot or endeavouring to "beat the red" are violations of the law and amongst the most criminally dangerous actions that can be perpetrated on the road.'

If you are stopped by the police

If you are stopped by the police after turning right in the correct fashion as stipulated by The Highway Code, remain calm and courteous at all times. We realize this may be easier said than done, particularly where you consider you are in the right, but anger, hostility or bluster are unlikely to gain you any advantage. It is the job of the police to maintain order on the roads.

Ask for clear details of any alleged transgression of The Highway Code or, if the police official turns technical (e.g. "It's not the highway code, it's the regulations") of the Rules of the Road Regulations.

1. If you are informed that you 'are under arrest', or 'will be detained in the cells over the weekend', or 'will have to do community service cleaning the toilets at the hospital', or 'will go to jail for six months' - all contained in recent secondhand reports we have heard - try to remain calm. These are likely to be ill-judged remarks by junior 'auxiliaries' of one sort or another, possibly with some hidden agenda.

2. We suggest that you say nothing in response. Just wait.

3. Note whether the speaker is in formal police uniform.

4. If he indicates he wishes to enter your vehicle, politely ask him to produce his police identity card.

5. If he produces it, scrutinise it. Make at least a mental note of his name and rank for future reference.

6. Ask if you can write the details down - name, rank, Force number, station. Explain that you understand the magistrate may request these from you at any 'trial' and your lawyer too.

7. If he has any 'hidden agenda' - or has no police identity card - he is likely to react strongly to your request and refuse to produce his ID.

8. We suggest you do not react and just wait in silence.

9. If he again indicates he wishes to enter your car, indicate you need to speak to a more senior police officer.

10. By this time, there are likely to have been several more light changes, more traffic flagged down, and the steam may have gone out of the encounter - particularly if you have been calm, courteous and deliberate at all times.

11. There is a good chance that you will be waved on with an admonishment - and he will turn to another 'prospect'.

12. If not, and you have to drive to Harare Central - the idea of which may cause a cold shiver to run down the collective spines of law-abiding citizens, given recent press reports - expect to have to possess your soul in patience.

13. In the end, possibly at the end of the day, you may be advised to go, with no action being taken.

14. Or you may be invited to sign an Admission of Guilt Form and pay a Deposit Fine. Until recently, these were administered on the spot. Note that Statutory Instrument 30A/2007 makes it clear that the maximum Deposit Fine that a police officer can levy is $2 500 (yes - that is two thousand five hundred dollars only). This was reported in the March 2007(1) issue of this Bulletin. One can but speculate why it has been felt necessary to remove this power from officers on the ground, at the scene of the offence.

15. Or you may have to wait some time until a magistrate is available and sufficient alleged offenders have been gathered.

16. If you appear before a magistrate, try not to complain about inconvenience etc. In the eyes of the law, a licence to drive a vehicle carries responsibilities as well as rights. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, as they say. In other words, explain your side of events calmly and courteously. If you maintain you are innocent of any wrongdoing, you are likely to be referred for trial in magistrate's court at some future date and sent away till then. You are most unlikely to be detained in cells for a minor traffic offence. Will such a trial eventuate? Well, that will depend on the quality of evidence, if any, that the police have recorded of any wrongdoing on your part. While events are fresh in your mind, make your won clear written record - date, time, place, events, details of the 'arresting officer', and so on. Keep it factual - try not to turn it into a grievance report. It is the job of the police to maintain order on the roads, after all - even if sometimes not done as well as it might be.

Some last pieces of advice

1. What should you do if one lone officer flags you down and gets into the car while you are still trying to gather your wits? He is likely to be an entrepreneur, on a fishing trip, or envisaging an ATM transaction. Try and follow the guidelines set out above. Remember, the officer may be going off duty and not really want to go to the station himself. Study the situation. Is he carrying a clipboard, for example, with a pad of A.4-size Admission of Guilt Forms? If not, he may not be about official business.

2. Should you ever ask about 'paying a fine instead'? That's up to you. You may wish to avoid inconvenience and 'buy your way out of difficulty'. Remember, however, that section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act provides severe penalties for offering a bribe to a public official - extending to imprisonment. (It provides the same severe penalties for an official who solicits a bribe.) Choose your words very carefully. Indicate that you will need an official receipt 'for your accountant'. Bureaucracy tends to dampen the enthusiasm of even the most enthusiastic fisherman. If he says he cannot give you a receipt, it becomes less likely that he will want to accompany you to the station where you might repeat this. If you do make some payment and are not given some form of official receipt (e.g. a copy of the Z69J form, Admission of Guilt Form), then consider yourself an ATM.

3. Exercise particular caution when driving on Friday afternoons. A magistrate is unlikely to be available then. Even more so on Friday evenings or during weekends.

Remember

With all the partly-functioning or non-functioning traffic lights, remember that the general rule of the road in Zimbabwe is DRIVE ON THE LEFT, GIVE WAY TO THE RIGHT. Be careful. Be safe.

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