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Question:

The Estate I live on has 220 houses and has recently changed the color of the traffic signs on the Estate roads e.g. Stop street is now green with white STOP in the middle, yield green border with yellow in the middle.

I am concerned that people visiting the Estate, as we have many houses that are rented out for holidays, will not associate with the sign and there could be accidents/bumper bashing or children who play around could be driven over.

Furthermore, we know that people spatially relate to signs, so they might not process these signs as road signs until it’s too late.

Lastly, if there are insurance claims, in the event of an accident, what will the stance be towards these “road signages” – is it even legal?

My question is: is the change of the color of these road signs legal, even if it’s just on a residential Estate?

Answer:

I have often observed on how truly absurd it is that gated communities and private estates feel that they have the authority to unlawfully erect road traffic signs and then set about “enforcing” road traffic laws according to their own patently incorrect “interpretation” of national legislation.

In terms of Regulation 287 of the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2000 all road traffic signs in South Africa must comply with the Southern African Development Community Road Traffic Signs Manual (SADC-RTSM) volumes 1 and 4 and the South African Road Traffic Signs Manual volumes 2 and 3.

Furthermore, according to Section 57(10) of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), 1996 (Act 93 of 1996), “No person shall display any road traffic sign on a public road unless having been authorised thereto by or under this Chapter”. Contravention of this provision is an offence in terms of Section 89 of the NRTA and is punishable upon conviction by a fine or imprisonment up to twelve months, or both a fine and imprisonment.

Internationally, not just in the SADC region, stop signs have a red background with white writing and are octagonal in shape as per the regulatory sign R1 contemplated in the aforementioned manual and illustrated below. The “yield” sign R2 is an inverted triangle with a red border and white background as illustrated below.

In addition, the dimensions and placement of these signs are regulated and any deviation whatsoever therefrom is not only confusing to road users, but is unlawful.

In matters like these, it is useful to understand what constitutes a public road in terms of the law and it has been my experience that homeowners associations and others choose to (deliberately it would seem) ignore this legal definition and assert that the roads within estates are “private roads” and therefore do not have to comply with national road traffic legislation. This is quite simply, not true.

A “public road” is defined as follows:

“public road” means any road, street or thoroughfare or any other place (whether a thoroughfare or not) which is commonly used by the public or any section thereof or to which the public or any section thereof has a right of access, and includes—

(a) the verge of any such road, street or thoroughfare;

(b) any bridge, ferry or drift traversed by any such road, street or thoroughfare; and

(c) any other work or object forming part of or connected with or belonging to such road, street or thoroughfare;

What is vitally important to note about this definition is the provision “to which the public or any section thereof has a right of access”. This includes residents of the estate, as constituting “any section thereof” as does it include their visitors, etc., whether or not access to that public road is regulated by that estate. There furthermore exists no definition in law of a “private road” such estates and other entities repeatedly choose to rely on.

No person or entity may lawfully alter the specifications of any road traffic sign and it is my view that no estate and/or its homeowner’s association is even authorised to erect any road traffic sign, whether it is a legal one or not, let alone change its specifications.

Clearly, tampering with the specifications of internationally recognised road traffic signs is not and cannot be in the interests of road safety and therefore this matter should be reported to the relevant authorities who should cause them to be removed and/or replaced with legally compliant road traffic signs. Achieving this however may prove to be a lot more difficult than it should be, quite simply because of the fact that may road traffic authorities choose to isolate themselves from their constitutional duty to act when unlawful actions are taken by, in particular, gated communities.

In this regard, it is my strong recommendation that you approach your homeowners association, inform them that their actions are unlawful and give them a reasonable timeframe to rectify the matter. If they fail or refuse to comply with your request, then you should approach your local authority (Municipality) for assistance and if that too fails, consider approaching the Department of Transport or the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC).

It is my view that this is a very serious matter indeed and should not be allowed to go unchallenged. Whilst the battle with your homeowners association may (and usually does) prove to be an uphill one, the law is completely on your side.

Best Regards,

Howard Dembovsky

National Chairman – Justice Project South Africa (NPC)

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