Speed trap crusader gets nailed motorists off hook

By Piet Van Niekerk and Brett Adkins

THOUSANDS of motorists trapped by the Storms River speed camera are effectively off the hook thanks to a one-woman crusade by a retired Port Elizabeth lecturer.

Dr Helena Bruwer, who now lives in Knysna, and her advocate brother spent thousands of rands contesting two fines of R100 each and one for R150 from the Koukamma Municipality. She was trapped at 92km/h, 93km/h and 97km/h in an 80km/h zone near the Storms River bridge between June and August, 2003.

Thousands of other motorists were also trapped during 2003 and 2004 by the same laser camera and officers. Many challenged the accuracy of the laser camera in the media and in complaints to the municipality.

In a three-hour judgment, Humansdorp magistrate Theresa Bothma said she could find no proof that the rules for speed trapping set out by the Director of Public Prosecutions were ever followed by officers of the Koukamma municipality who set up the lucrative trap in the fynbos alongside the N2 freeway near the Storms River Bridge.

Bothma found there was no reason for her to believe that the State would be able to prove that any other similar speeding fine on that stretch of road could be proved to be lawful.

During the case, Advocate Eduard Bruwer asked the State to supply detailed information on how the apparatus was aligned and tested and how officers were trained to use the “LaserCam”. Tests were also conducted at the Humansdorp Golf Club to do velocity tests and set the zero reading.

Bothma said the State could give no evidence that the operators knew how to align the speed reading with the camera. They could also not prove that they could set the zero reading, as the equipment showed the pavilion they aimed the apparatus at moving towards the camera at a speed of 1km/h.

The court questioned the quality of the training given to the four speed-trap operators – Shaun Williams, Ollie Julies, Edward Sampson and C M Floors. They never read the camera’s manual and did not know how to perform “scope alignment”. The Director of Public Prosecutions requires that scope alignment be done at least once an hour on such devices.

Bothma indicated the area on a checklist where scope alignment should be noted, and the form photocopied for use by the officers. There was no proof that alignment tests were downloaded onto CD as required.

She said one of the reasons strict technical rules should apply to speed traps was that the public became angry at this form of trapping. The technical aspects of the apparatus should thus be adhered to if people were to trust in the State.

Bruwer was beaming yesterday, after what she described as a “victory for the people”.

“We wanted to test this and the only way to do that was to test it in court,” she said. “If we had lost, we would have taken it to a higher court.”

Bruwer, a former Port Elizabeth Teachers’ College lecturer, said since retiring to Knysna she had returned to Port Elizabeth for visits many times and had driven along the section of the N2.

“I have been driving that road for a long time – about 10 years – and I never used to get caught speeding. And then suddenly I got caught so many times – I just didn’t understand it.”

Bruwer said she was fortunate that her brother had given up his time to represent her in court, but the travelling from Knysna to Humansdorp to attend court, along with accommodation bills, had been costly.

“I could have just paid the R350 and been done with it. The cost of the travelling and accommodation has run into thousands of rands. But the money has never been the issue. It’s meant victory for the people.”