Cape Town police seize chatty drivers' cell phones

CAPE TOWN, July 6 Fri Jul 6, 2012 3:07pm IST

CAPE TOWN, July 6 (Reuters) - Phoning or texting while driving in the South African tourist capital of Cape Town could cost you your cell phone under a new by-law allowing police to confiscate handsets for 24 hours.

In their first peak-hour blitz since the law came into effect this week, police in unmarked "ghost squad" vehicles seized 16 phones from loquacious and quick-fingered motorists.

Jason Hill, one of the first offenders nabbed, was unrepentant. "We are South Africans, you know. We are always going to use the device and be on the lookout for cops. It's just the way we are," he told Reuters.

The by-law states that cell phones can only be used in a car with a hands-free kit. Motorists caught breaking the law face a 500 rand ($61.50) fine and/or a jail term of up to three years.

City officials said they had got fed up with fining 8,000 drivers a month without seeing any change in their behaviour. "We are giving out lots of fines but obviously it is not a deterrent," said deputy chief of traffic services Andre Nel.

Many disgruntled motorists said confiscation was an over-reaction, but others applauded it as a sensible step towards preventing accidents caused by distracted drivers.

"Sometimes you see someone chatting on the phone and you have to hoot because they don't see traffic lights change," said delivery driver Osman Yehye. "When people are on the phone they don't use their indicators and that's how accidents happen." ($1 = 8.1286 South African rand) (Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Samantha Lee; Editing by Tim Pearce)