The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Amendment Bill was passed in parliament earlier this month and could be fully in effect by next year.

The bill, which is more commonly known as the ‘point demerit system,’ has been on the table since 1998 so motorists may be forgiven not buying the news that it may finally be on the way. However, the National Assembly finally passed the bill on September 5, and the gears of bureaucracy seem to be turning to get this bill out of parliament and onto the streets. The Road Traffic Infringement Authority (RTIA) has partially implemented the bill on the streets of Tshwane and Johannesburg, and once a date has been set by the Minister of Transport it will be implemented nationally. Opposition parties including the DA and COPE argued against the bill’s passing, saying that the bureaucratic realities of enforcing the bill would cause huge challenges.
Related: eNaTIS: What it is. How it works.

What does the AARTO Amendment Bill mean for motorists?

While traffic offenders will be punished for breaking the law, the demerit system’s main aim is to improve road safety by changing the behaviour of motorists in South Africa. Few citizens could argue that South Africa’s roads are simply not safe enough, with an astronomical number of injuries and fatalities recorded on SA’s roads every year, involving all road users – cars, motorcycles and pedestrians – alike. Current punishments are having little to no effect on the bad driving habits of South Africa motorists, and change is needed to ensure that drivers fear the consequences of breaking the law enough to promote safer driving. Previously, motorists were able to ignore fines altogether, safe in the knowledge that only a small percentage of fines are currently collected by the traffic department. Motorists also had the option to go to court to dispute their fine, causing the court system to be flooded with these cases which may not ultimately be heard as other, more important cases have priority. With the AARTO bill, ignoring penalties can lead to motorist’s licenses being blocked on the system.

Is it just another way to take cash from already cash-strapped motorists?

One of the main concerns that detractors of the AARTO bill have is that it will be used as just another way to generate revenue from citizens already feeling the hit from credit downgrades and an unstable economic climate. The RTIA is a State Owned Enterprise that is almost entirely funded by traffic fines, and the replacing of the courts from the process of appealing traffic fines with a Tribunal opens the process to exploitation. According to BusinessTech, fraud claims have already begun to surface: a private company called Syntell has sent out SMS and email messages supposedly from the RTIA trying to get motorists to pay ‘stagnated’ traffic fines issued by the JMPD. Syntell has acquired access to the sensitive information of many motorists, and many of the fines themselves date back to 2012 when the JMPD unlawfully violated the AARTO act and which motorists are not legally obligated to pay.

How does the AARTO Amendment Bill work?

Drivers start with no points on their license. When they are pinged breaking traffic laws, they are awarded points based on the severity of the traffic offence. Motorists will be allowed to drive with a maximum of 12 points. Every point over that limit (ie. 13 demerit points) will cause their license to be suspended for three months. If a motorist’s license is suspended three times it will be cancelled. For every three-month period where the driver doesn’t accumulate any demerit points, one point will be deducted from their total number of demerits.

How do motorists contest a traffic fine?

Motorists will be notified via electronic or written means when they have incurred a fine, and will have 32 days to pay the fine and receive a 50% deduction. Drivers who wish to dispute their fines will no longer be able to take their case to court; instead, they will have to submit written representations to the traffic department as to why the fine is incorrect together with an as-yet-undetermined fee. To prevent motorists from disputing every fine in an effort to frustrate the system, a R200 penalty will be added to the fine if representations are unsuccessful due to a lack of substance. If a motorist fails to exercise one of these options within the given time-frame, an enforcement order will be issued which prevents them from issuing a driving license or vehicle license for that motorist. Driving a motor vehicle with a license that has been suspended may incur a criminal penalty which may result in a year of jail-time. However, without the necessary technological equipment, traffic officers will be unable to determine whether a license has been suspended – most traffic officers only check to see whether a license has reached its expiry date, and nothing further.

What if someone else committed the offence while driving a car registered in your name?

The AARTO bill is especially worrying for individuals who own cars that are driven by others: these include those individuals who are proxies for juristic entities like businesses or companies, or owners of multiple vehicles driven by others, like parents in whose name a child’s car is registered. The drivers will be able to escape punishment while the individuals in whose name the vehicles are registered may find themselves hit with an impossibly high number of demerit points in a short period of time.
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What are the offences that can earn you a demerit?

Each offence will earn drivers a different number of demerits depending on the severity of the offence. For less serious offences, up to 2 demerit points will be awarded. These include failing to obey a road sign, for example failing to stop at a stop sign. Offences which are more serious can earn the driver up to 4 demerit points. These include offences related to driving license offences, like driving with an expired license. Serious offences can earn a driver up  to 6 demerit points. These offences include driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or excessive speeding (driving 120 km/h in an 80 km/h zone).

Will the AARTO bill be successful?

Despite the protestations of officials within the RTIA and the Department of Transport, the partial implementation of the bill has been mostly unsuccessful in Johannesburg and Pretoria. According to ITWeb, since the bill’s inception, the success rate of collecting traffic offences dropped from 50% of all fines to as low as 3.5%, resulting in a loss of over R200 million.
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