VIO is going digital on Lagosians.
A few days ago, I was minding my business when I received a text message that would alter my mood for the rest of the day.
"Your vehicle (number plate) committed a TRAFFIC OFFENCE with bill no xxxxxx. Visit VIS HQ Alausa within 7 days to avoid impoundment", the SMS read.
Once a plate number is captured, it is run through the VIS database and offending motorists are contacted with a bill
"How?!" was my first thought. I liked to think I was a model Lagos driver so what on earth was going on?
Now any Lagosian worth their salt knows that the fear of vehicle impoundment is the beginning of wisdom. They also know that Alausa, the seat of government in Lagos, isn't a place one ventures to lightly. So it was with great trepidation that I made my way to the VIS office in search of answers.
It turns out my car had been flagged for not having vehicle insurance.
The car in question was barely 2 weeks old, and I hadn't gotten round to sorting out my comprehensive insurance, but this negligence was about to set me back by N20,000 in fine.
I had questions and this would eventually lead me to speak with Eng Olayemi Olumide, Head of Planning & Research, Lagos state Vehicle Inspection Service.
According to Olumide, the days when motorists plied the roads without their complete papers - whether the car was 1 hour old, or 10 years old, were over.
So, how exactly were these guys able to track the status of my vehicle papers, despite the fact that I didn't encounter any officer on the road? Hello, ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology!
Scattered across Lagos are plate detect devices that capture number plates of vehicles. The number plate is then run through VIS database and a bill is automatically generated for defaulters. Owners of vehicles without complete paperwork are promptly contacted via SMS to report to VIS Alausa. On arrival, the offender is presented with a bill which they're required to pay at the bank, but not before putting their vehicle papers in order.
According to Olumide, "we started research before the governor asked us to stay away from the road. We went round developed countries from each of the continents to find out how traffic enforcement was being done as part of our mandate to deliver efficient, automated service that will ensure safe road transportation for the people of Lagos,''
So what happens if the offender refuses to show up after an SMS has been sent?
"We also send bills to the houses, the bills are also spread to command structure and zonal structures who send to houses. After which we give 7 days, then we come to you again. After this, if we discover you're being heady or we can't even locate that address, we place the number plate on blacklist because we see every vehicle that moves on the road. Once the vehicle is on the blacklist, once the vehicle passes any of the cameras, it triggers the nearest VIO unit'' Olumide explained.
Continuing, he said,
"The law also gives us arrest without a warrant so after the number of days we've given you and you don't show up, we can come to your house and impound your vehicle from there"
But isn't N20,000 a rather steep fine, especially for first-time offenders? According to Olumide, it serves as a deterrent.
"An offender is an offender, we're not happy in you violating the laws. The money is just a deterrent, we want you to obey the law, keep the standard and sanity on these roads. It's not about the revenue or whether you're a first or second-time offender. All we're saying is we want everyone to be compliant with the road traffic laws".
There is, however, an option to review the fine but this is completely at the discretion of the officer.
"At the end of the bill, it tells you that if you want to come for review, come with the valid document. So sometimes, after compassionate consideration, whoever is in charge, the head of control regulation and enforcement could decide to do a little bit of redress for you because it's important to us to give a fair hearing''.
Currently, the ANPR technology is only for vehicle documentation and not traffic offenses like beating the traffic light etc. It is also fully operational on all major roads across Lagos state, with over 11,000 people having been nabbed so far for one violation or the other. According to Olumide, after full integration, the service will move to hinter roads.
So dear Lagosian, now would be a very good time to get your papers in order.