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Microdots: All you need to know

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Words Malcolm Cassisa Photography Courtesy of Recoveri

 

Microdots: All you need to know

Microdots. Have you heard of them? As owners of towcars, caravans, trailers and motorhomes, it’s important that you educate yourself about this new legal requirement.

 

If you own a caravan, motorhome or trailer (for now, let’s call them all leisure vehicles), you’ve most likely heard about the legislation that’s been passed recently which compels you to ensure that your leisure vehicle has microdot vehicle identity tags by 1 September 2012.
Before you go all dotty at what many feel is a senseless and wasteful regulation, we thought we’d give you the low-down on everything about microdots, and how they affect you.

The law

The piece of legislation dealing with microdot ID tags was published by the Department of Transport on 9 March 2012 as Notice R209 in Government Gazette 35130. It falls under the National Road Traffic Act, Act 93 of 1966, and is an amendment to the National Road Traffic Regulations. The amendment defines ‘microdot’ as ‘a micro-particle with a diameter smaller than 1.8 mm, which bears a unique optically readable microdot identifier of which the content and structure complies with SANS 534-1; and is legible with equipment that magnifies the text 60 times’.
The part we’re most interested in reads as follows: ‘A motor vehicle registered for the first time in the Republic on or after 1 September 2012, shall be fitted with microdots which comply with the requirements of standard specification SANS 534-1 Vehicle security – Whole of vehicle marking Part 1 : Microdot systems.’ And this also applies to motor vehicles that require clearance by the South African Police Service.

The confusing bit
You might be wondering what this regulation has to do with caravans or trailers. Surely they’re not regarded as motor vehicles? We put this question to Alta Swanepoel of Alta Swanepoel & Associates, our goto- guru for all things relating to traffic regulations. Her regretful response was that it certainly does apply.

Section 1 of the National Road Traffic Act defines ‘motor vehicle’ as ‘any self-propelled vehicle’ and specifically ‘includes a trailer’. ‘Trailer’, in turn, is defined as ‘a vehicle which is not selfpropelled and which is designed or adapted to be drawn by a motor vehicle, but does not include a side-car attached to a motor cycle’.

How will this affect you? Simply put, if you’re buying a leisure vehicle and it will be newly registered on or after 1 September 2012, then you must ensure that it complies with the new regulations and is tagged with microdot ID tags. If, after 1 September, you buy a second-hand leisure vehicle that was de-registered from the electronic National Transport Information System (eNaTIS), because it was either scrapped or stolen and has since been recovered, or you’re going to import a new one that’s unregistered, then you have to ensure that the microdots are applied for police clearance and licence registration purposes.

For now, if your leisure vehicle is already registered on eNaTIS, you don’t have to get the microdot ID tags applied. There’s some discussion under way between the Department of Transport, leisure vehicle manufacturers and other parties with vested interests who’re objecting to a proposed amendment that will include second-hand and already registered leisure vehicles. The word is that if their objections are ignored and the legislation is amended, it will only be enforced in the first quarter of 2013. We will keep you informed.

The good news is that all of the manufacturers and importers that we have canvassed – including Jurgens Ci, Dethleffs Caravans and Motorhomes, Motorhome-World, Bobo Campers and Mega Manufacturers (makers of the Conqueror) – are geared to apply the microdot ID tags to their products. It’s safe to assume that all other manufacturers or importers will fall in line.

Do caravans, trailers and motorhomes need this?
I can now hear you asking that burning question: is this newfangled technology really necessary for leisure vehicles? The police say that it will make it much easier for them to identify a stolen or hijacked motor vehicle once it’s been recovered. Car thieves normally remove the vehicle identification number (VIN) and engine number, but it’s a bit more difficult to remove 5000 to 15 000 microdots that have been applied all over the vehicle in strategic positions. According to Business Against Crime, which supports microdots, international statistics show a 50-60% reduction in the theft of vehicles, while 55% more stolen cars are recovered with the use of microdot technology.

Caravan and trailer VIN numbers are etched or engraved on a plate that’s normally glued or riveted to the A-frame and is easily removable. Besides the registration licence, this is the only means of identifying a stolen trailer or caravan. The big question is: will microdot ID tags be a deterrent to thieves? Supporters of the microdot system say that it will. The best people to answer this question are naturally the manufacturers and importers themselves – and it just so happens that they have a collective voice in the shape of the Leisure Industry Manufacturers Association (LIMA), an organisation that loosely represents most of South Africa’s caravan, motorhome and trailer manufacturers.

Dennis Bouwers of Motorhome- World and Bobo Campers is the spokesperson for LIMA. He says that although the microdots might be a deterrent to vehicle theft, the association does not believe that leisure products, like caravans, trailers and motorhomes, warrant such an identification system, and fears that it will cause an additional cost to the consumer.

LIMA was a strong voice of dissent when the amendments were being discussed with industry representatives prior to promulgation. According to Dennis, ‘LIMA voiced its comments and suggestions, but received no response to its concerns. We noted that we do not see the benefit of this draft compulsory legislation, either to our clients or to us as manufacturers. It has no safety-critical implications, nor does it enhance value for money for our clients. We do understand that it will help the SAPS and justice department secure more convictions, but that is not the main concern of manufacturers.’ Dennis suggests that the wording under the proposed new regulation 56(1A) could have inserted in it ‘except caravans, motorhomes, camping-type trailers and all trailers below a GVM of 750 kg’.

However, LIMA has confirmed that although most of its members do not agree with this new legislation, all will comply. Our advice is that when you buy a new leisure vehicle, check the date when it was first registered, and if it’s after 1 September 2012, get the manufacturer’s or dealer’s confirmation that the microdots have been applied. Some upsides

There are several positive spin-offs to microdot ID tagging. While you’re getting your vehicle tagged, you can have various items inside the vehicle marked at the same time with their own unique microdot ID tags. These can include plasma TVs, DVD consoles, microwaves or anything else of value that you will be travelling with, like cameras, laptops, tablets and cell phones, which can be stolen. (There will be more about this in an upcoming issue.) Another upside is that your insurance premium is likely to be reduced if you advise your broker that your leisure vehicle and your personal assets have been marked with microdot ID tags. How much exactly is between you and your insurer.

What are microdots?
As you’ve probably figured out by now, a microdot is not a vehicle tracking device, but a means of identification. A microdot is no bigger than 1.8 mm in diameter, and each one carries the unique code found only on your leisure vehicle.

Between 5000 and 15 000 of these polyester ID tags are sprayed onto your vehicle with a special adhesive. They are applied to strategic places like:
• The information (VIN) plate
• The chassis or frame
• Axles
• Suspension components
• Inside openings in body structural members
• Some parts of the underside of the body

The microdots can barely be seen with the naked eye, but show up clearly when scanned with a UV light and magnification equipment.
What’s the process? So 1 September has passed and you know that you need to have microdots applied to your unregistered leisure vehicle. What should you do? There are four accredited microdot material manufacturers or importers in South Africa. They are Recoveri, Veridot, AutoDot and DataDot.

Each company has accredited microdot applicators in South Africa’s main centres, and you can only have your leisure vehicle ‘contaminated’, as the professional microdotters put it, at one of their accredited application centres.

The companies all have informative websites, so it’s quite easy to locate one of their applicators in your area to compare quotes. We strongly suggest that you get more than one quote, because as you will see later on, prices can vary greatly. Once your second-hand or imported leisure vehicle has been processed and contaminated with microdots, you’ll receive a certificate that you take to the South African Police Service, where you’ll get a police clearance certificate and your leisure vehicle information (VIN number, unique microdot ID number and engine number, if it’s a motorhome) will be placed on the eNaTIS register. You can now go ahead and get your leisure vehicle licensed.

A sticker is then attached to your leisure vehicle warning would-be thieves that it’s been fitted with microdots. This sticker acts as a deterrent because the ‘chop shops’ are reluctant to handle stolen goods that have been microdotted. Your unique microdot code will also be registered on the website of company you used, and you’ll have secure internet access to their database.

What will it cost?
If you’re purchasing a brand new leisure vehicle, the cost of the application will most likely be included in the selling price. If you’re buying second-hand or importing a leisure vehicle that needs to be registered on eNaTIS, then installation at an accredited application centre can cost you anything from R499 (quoted by Recoveri) to R2450 (according to the DataDot website).

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