While in a taxi that headed to Seguku, we met traffic officers at Kibuye round-about. The officers stopped the taxi and ordered the driver to park on the road side. The officers checked the exterior of the taxi and later they instructed us to get out. When we got out of the car, one of the officers entered and inspected the interior part. The officers then took the driver a few metres away from the vehicle and started questioning him.
After some minutes of interrogation, one officer ordered her colleague to remove the front number plate. Nonetheless, the law implementers allowed us to proceed with our journey but, the number plate was seized. Since I had seated next to the driver, I tried to ask him why the number plate had been taken, but his reply was “Aboo bagala sente,” loosely translated as those just want a bribe.
Why it is taken
Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson says car number plates can be removed when the vehicle is in dangerous mechanical condition. He says the law instructs the Inspectorate of Vehicles (IOV) and other eminent officers to seize all vehicles in dangerous mechanical condition. “This is done to protect the lives of the passengers and other road users,”he says.
Onyango adds that the number plate can also be removed when the driver commits an offence and stubbornly refuses to respond to police summons. “We may keep the car or the number plate at the station until the owner presents himself at the police station to answer his charges.”
In some cases the number plate can be taken when the driver fails to pay the fine charges such as over loading, driving while drunk or off-loading from forbidden places. When the debts accumulate, police may decide to keep the number until the owner clears the bills.
“Police can also remove vehicle number plates once the driver parks his car in the middle of the road and denies access to other road users or causes congestion in the process. If it is a small standard vehicle we may tow it to the nearest police station and in case of a trailer and other big lorries, we keep the number plate,” says Onyango.
However, Onyango laments that the number plate can only be removed by the police inspectorate of vehicles or other distinguished officers according to the law.
Allan Atuhaire, the officer in charge for inspection of vehicles and driver testing says vehicle number plates can be removed when the vehicle is legally written off (beyond repair). Legal write off applies to badly damaged vehicles that cannot be repaired to a standard that is safe for road use.
When the vehicle number plate is recorded as a statutory write off means the vehicle is not allowed to be registered but only suitable for use as parts or scrap metal.
Atuhaire adds that vehicle number plates can also be kept when the vehicles are set for auctioning.
An auction is the process of buying and selling goods or services under bidding and the items are sold to the highest bidders. Vehicles that can be auctioned may include parastatal and local government vehicles, NGO vehicles as well lost and found vehicles.
Atuhaire notes, “In some cases the number plates can be taken by police as security for offenders. For instance if the vehicle commits an offence and the driver does not have money to clear the fine, the authorities may keep the number plate as security.”
Getting back the number plate
Onyango stresses: “If the number plate is removed because your vehicle is in a poor mechanical condition, the driver is advised to take it for repair. After the repairs are done, he takes the vehicle to the inspectorate of vehicles (IOV) for review. When the IOV sees that it is in a good condition, the owner is given back the number plate.”
The spokesperson adds: “In case the vehicle committed an offence, the driver can only be given back his vehicle or the number plate after the case has been settled.”
Atuhaire says for auctioned cars, the bidder needs to pay a registration fee and taxes to Uganda Revenue Authority. He also remarks that when the number plate is taken as security, the driver has to pay the fine first to get back the number plate. The amount is paid to the relevant authorities and the payee is issued with a clearance note.
WHAT TO DO AND NOT TO
It is obvious that when you break the rules, you will be arrested and fined. So one way of not having your number plate taken is to make sure your vehicle and your own conduct on the road is good enough. Below are some must do and must not do things from the Highway Code.
Must hold a valid driving permit for the class of vehicle you are driving (except for drivers of non-motorised vehiles).
Must be feeling well-not tired or ill.
Must be able to see properly-wear glasses if necessary.
Must not be incapable of controlling the vehicle due to having drunk alcohol or taken drugs.
Must make sure that any children are carried in the rear seats of the vehicle and are under the control of a grown-up person-fit child seats for young children.