South Africa’s new demerit system is geared towards making money: AA

Earlier this month, the National Assembly passed the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Bill and sent it to President Cyril Ramaphosa to be signed into law.

Among other changes, the bill plans to introduce a new demerit system, a block on obtaining driving and vehicle licences when failing to pay traffic fines, and the delivery of traffic fines through electronic methods such as SMS.

However despite a number of positive changes, in its current form, the bill is cause for concern according to the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa.

“In principle, we are in favour of a demerit system for drivers – it is something we have always backed and supported even as far back as the 1960s when such a system was first mooted, and as recently as the late 1990s and early 2000s when it was again on the table,” the AA said.

“This punishes frequent road traffic offenders while those who obey the rules of the road have nothing to fear. However, many of the proposed amendments to the bill, now before the president, are worrisome and raise questions about the practicality of the system’s implementation.”

The AA noted that the provisions around demerit points appear to be geared more towards revenue collection than dealing with road safety, which should be a central theme of such a system.

A good example is the low rand value and points demerit for not wearing a seatbelt which is the same as driving an unregistered vehicle, it said.

“In our view not wearing a seatbelt should carry a much stiffer monetary punishment and accompanying high-value points demerit. If making our roads safer is the objective, let’s start here.

“Another concern is the constitutionality of certain amendments in relation to the issuing of fines via electronic mail instead of through traditional mail.”

Failed system

By far the most egregious components of the amendment bill, relating to the rights of infringers and fleet owners, the AA said.

“In terms of challenging an infringement, a person must use the channels of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA), the very body which is reliant on the revenue from fines for its very existence.

“This, in our opinion, violates the infringer’s rights to a fair hearing and places it with an organ of state it doesn’t believe can be impartial in this matter.

“As for fleet owners or managers, the burden the amendment bill places on them is immense especially as any demerits earned on these vehicles will go directly against their personal names. This is wholly unfair and, again, does not address what should be a predominant feature of this system: road safety,” the AA said.

It added that the piloted roll-out of Aarto in Tshwane and Johannesburg was not implemented properly as only fines and no demerit points were issued. This means amendments to the Aarto Bill are being made without proper testing of the system.

The existing system as it was implemented has also proven to be largely unsuccessful, especially when measured against fatal road crashes in the province, it said.

“In 2014 there were 2,136 fatal road crashes in Gauteng, in 2015 there were 2,171; 2,385 in 2016; and 2398 in 2017. Instead of declining, these crashes have increased, all while the limited Aarto implementation was in force in the province.

“Despite the public consultation around Aarto, it seems little consideration was given to the many submissions which raised these and other issues, including those from the AA. It notes that road safety must be the priority of any infringement system introduced into South Africa, which in this amendment bill it isn’t.

“Our overall impression, though, is that any system which tinkers with the punishment of offenders instead of deals with the more important issues of stopping offenders is not going to work. Essentially, unless people fear getting caught in the first place, there is no usefulness to a demerit system,” it said.

Read: South Africa’s new demerit system set to be signed into law

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