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AFU to decide on confiscations individually
The Assets Forfeiture Unit would look at the merits of each case before confiscating cars not owned by drunk drivers.
The Assets Forfeiture Unit (AFU) would consider the merits of each case before confiscating cars driven by drunken drivers but not owned by them.

AFU head Willie Hofmeyr responded on Tuesday to concerns about the impact of vehicle confiscations on car owners and companies who lent or leased cars to drivers subsequently convicted of drunken driving.

"It depends on whether the owner was aware the vehicle would be used to commit a crime. If you knew the person has a record of driving under the influence or has previously been found guilty of drunk driving, then the friend or family member's car may be seized.

"The law also protects people who could show they did not know or did not suspect that the vehicle they own would have been used by a drunk driver to commit an offence," Hofmeyr said.

He said the same might apply to bank-owned vehicles, rental cars or company fleet vehicles.

"All of them are basically the same, but cases are treated on merit. If you could show you did not suspect or have reason to suspect the vehicle would be used for crime, then the car would not be seized."

AFU's guidelines indicate the state can seize a vehicle when the driver had been convicted of drunk driving three years prior to the latest arrest, drove an overloaded vehicle while over the legal limit of 0,05mg per 100ml of blood or awaits a trial for drunk driving.

Hofmeyr said his unit had not kept track of the number of cases reported to it countrywide but that "there are a lot on the way". "In many cases evidence is still being gathered and traffic authorities are checking records on any previous offences."

Avis Rent-A-Car said it awaited feedback from its legal advisers on what constituted confiscation.

"At the moment the issue is judgmental and not specific," the company's marketing director Nic Griffin said.

He said as in a situation where insurance companies refused to cover damages when a driver had committed an offence such as drunk driving, Avis would hold its client accountable for damages.

"With rental cars it is the same. The renter is in breach of the lease agreement if he breaks the law and will then be held accountable," Griffin said.

Vehicle financing company Wesbank's legal adviser Nicholas Litton said: "We have been opposed to confiscation from the beginning because we believe there are better remedies to stop drunken driving. We'll never support drunk driving but confiscating a vehicle does not solve the problem.

"The driver can go and use someone else's car or rent a vehicle. Rental companies won't know who has a criminal record. Courts have sufficient powers. Why not jail the offender or take away his licence?"

Earlier Community Safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane expressed concern after at least 352 motorists were nabbed at roadblocks in the Western Cape over the festive season.

"The number arrested is cause for concern," he said.

                                             This article was originally published on page 5 of Cape Times on January 10, 2007

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