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Blue Light Brigade – What you’re expected to do when they drive past

A video that went viral in South Africa this week has once again sparked outrage and concern over the use of so-called “blue light brigades” – the unofficial term used to describe the country’s VIP escort services.

On Monday, 3 July, a video was recorded and posted to social media showing an incident between a civilian vehicle and two black BMW SUVs equipped with blue flashing lights, which took place on the N1 in Gauteng near Fourways.

The clip shows several men armed with weapons emerging from the BMWs, who then dragged out three occupants from a VW Polo and proceeded to assault them before getting back in the SUVs and driving away. One of the victims appears to be unconscious after the attack.

Deputy President Paul Mashatile later announced that the men in the video had been assigned to him, but said he was not present at the incident.

Concerns over blue light brigades

While new details about the incident are still emerging, it is believed that it was a result of a traffic dispute between the Polo and BMW drivers, with the former failing to make way for the approaching convoy.

The SUVs allegedly then proceeded to box in the Polo and force the vehicle to pull over at the side of the road.

The violent altercation has been condemned by SAPS, politicians, legal and academic authorities, and the public alike, leading to an internal investigation into the men responsible.

This is not the first time that citizens have voiced their frustrations with the behaviour of the country’s VIP protection services, often forcing other users off the road to make way for their convoy of high-end SUVs and sedans.

“In early 2022, we noted our deep concerns about the so-called Blue Light Brigades and the threat they pose to road users. They are aggressive towards other drivers, often pushing them off the road to ensure their convoy has easy passage – many times through heavy traffic,” said Willem Groenwald, the CEO of the Automobile Association.

“We noted then, as we do again here, that anecdotal evidence points to members screaming at other motorists, showing their firearms to other motorists to intimidate them, and generally being belligerent when on the road.”

What blue light brigades are allowed to do

While they can be a great source of frustration for other road users, VIP escort services equipped with blue lights are allowed to disobey certain rules of the road – to a reasonable degree.

They are covered under Section 58(3) of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), which stipulates that “any person driving a vehicle while engaged in civil protection as contemplated in any ordinance made in terms of section 3 of the Civil Protection Act, 1977 (Act No. 67 of 1977), may disregard the directions of a road traffic sign which is displayed in the prescribed manner.”

This allowance is permitted provided that the person(s) drive with “due regard to the safety of other traffic,” according to the NRTA.

What you are expected to do

Under normal circumstances, citizens are expected to comply with regulation 176 of the NRTA, which states that drivers are expected to give way to any vehicle with an identification lamp, or that is sounding a device.

However, several individuals have spoken out about the N1 incident, claiming that the acts of the SUV drivers go far beyond what is authorized by the NRTA.

“Any driver who drives recklessly or is careless about the safety of other users on the road should be held liable for gross negligence where they pose a threat to property or another person whether they are driving a politician, delegate, VIP, or a car fitted with a blue light, just like any other road user,” said Groenwald.

Stefanie Fick, the executive director of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, said to ENCA that assaulting people and standing in the middle of the freeway is not a justification for their duties.

The incident has also raised trust issues between citizens and law enforcement, as it is hard to differentiate between an urgent approaching convoy and people in fancy cars who are abusing their power, she explained.

“If you are not protecting the deputy president and there is not an urgent need, it is difficult to fathom what could have happened to act that way,” said Fick.

Outa therefore recommends that rather than trying to take the situation into your own hands, it’s better to report the cars in question to the authorities if you suspect foul play.



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