We have recently published an article about yellow boxes resembling roadside electricity or telecommunications cabinets popping up alongside busy roads – boxes which are in fact speed cameras in disguise.
According to reports, the boxes are non-permanent speed traps, which motorists report disappear and then reappear at certain roadside spots.
Drivers have questioned the legality of the hidden cameras, since no warning signs are posted ahead of the units, but the law states traffic authorities are allowed to use these clandestine traps.
There used to be a requirement where signs warning of speed prosecution by camera had to be displayed, said Justice Project South Africa chairman Howard Dembovsky. This is no longer the case, except for average speed prosecutions.
Hidden speed cameras in South Africa
There are several types of hidden speed cameras in SA, which fall into one of three categories: fixed speed cameras, portable Lidar, and portable Radar.
The images below show some of the hidden camera technology used in the country.
Green mamba speed cameras
The green box camera is the hidden speed trap which was rolled out in Pietermaritzburg.
The units are portable and use camera, radar, and laser functionality to catch speedsters. These cameras were nicknamed “green mambas” in 2012 when they first started appearing along Vereeniging Road in Gauteng.
Grey utility box speed cameras
Working off the same technology as the green mambas, these grey portable speed camera boxes made headlines in August 2015 when they started appearing along major roads in Nelson Mandela Bay.
According to reports, the traffic cameras can spot drivers who run red lights, stolen vehicles, and vehicles with outstanding fines.
Camouflaged unmanned radar traps
Radar speed guns rely on the Doppler effect to calculate the speed of a passing vehicle by directing a microwave signal at it.
As with fixed installations, law enforcement officials are not obliged to warn the public that speed trapping is taking place.
Manned portable speed traps
Portable Lidar and Radar speed traps can also be manned by traffic officials, who can position themselves in a roadside area in which motorists may not spot them.
Law enforcement officials are not obliged to warn motorists they are trapping, but operators must have a valid operator’s certificate and calibration certificate for the speed trapping instrument.
Are hidden speed cameras making roads safer?
Hidden speed cameras might be good at catching motorists who break the law, but do they make our roads safer?
We spoke to JPSA chairman Howard Dembovsky and Arrive Alive’s Johan Jonck about the hidden traps, with Dembovsky stating that the JPSA views speed cameras in general as an “ineffective means of traffic law enforcement”.
“When they are hidden, they are even worse since it is abundantly clear that their sole purpose is to generate revenue – not make roads safer,” said Dembovsky.
He said if the cameras were effective, they would only be installed for a limited period.
“The exact opposite is true. In most cases, with the JMPD for example, the authorisations for non-fixed speed cameras have existed for more than a decade. If they were effective, why wouldn’t the Director of Public Prosecutions say that a permanent speed camera must be erected?”
Jonck said Arrive Alive was a supporter of average speed over distance systems.
“We are in favour of speed measurement, but would not like to see this as the only type of enforcement or as a revenue generating activity for the local and metropolitan budgets,” said Jonck.
He said the focus of traffic officials needed to be on “enforcement” and not “entrapment”.
“We would like to emphasise the need for visible traffic enforcement of all violations on the road, and rather not see officers hiding under bridges, behind bushes, under trees, or behind a speed camera.”