The Demerit System Gets Even Worse (And E-Tolls To Stay)

For those that missed it, the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Bill was officially signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa back in August, and it’s had SA motorists, civil society groups and legal experts up in arms ever since.

The legislation, designed to change driving behaviour through the implementation of stringent rules – such as the demerit system – and harsher punishment, has been mired in controversy since day one, and it doesn’t look to be getting any better. 

The demerit point system, in which demerit points will be allocated to those who break the rules of the road, has come under particular fire for multiple reasons. Earlier this month, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula stated that it is expected for the legislation to be in full effect from as early as June 2020, and doubts have been raised as to whether or not the government will be able to successfully implement such a problematic system so soon.

The system has a number of glaring flaws, namely in administrative process, constitutionality and the ability to actually reduce road fatalities. According to civil society group, Outa, the latter problem is largely due to poor enforcement of traffic laws, a lack of traffic infringement management and a variety of problems in the management of vehicle and driver licensing. The new legislation, it added, will not address or solve these problems.

” Outa opposed this law from when the Amendment Bill was published in 2015. Our engagements in parliament and letters to the president have been ignored. Outa will now challenge the constitutionality of the AARTO Amendment Act in court. “

So, the new Act doesn’t exactly have too many fans. That’s just the beginning, though. More recently, the Department of Transport published draft regulations relating to the Act, containing nightmare-inducing changes. 

Let’s take a look.

In Case You Missed It: AARTO Demerit System Now Law

Nightmare Fuel – Proposed Changes To The AARTO Act

According to several legal experts, the new regulations being proposed go far beyond just amending the existing regulations, approved by the president, and instead effectively repeal them to create an entirely new set of principles that only serve to highlight and exacerbate the problems already present. 

This includes a change to the penalties that motorists will face, with the new regulations introducing a new infringement penalty levy of R100 charged on every infringement committed, which is in addition to the fine, and no possible discount for full payment. 

As pointed out by Outa, the new regulations appear to be solely geared toward making money, milking the South African public as dry as possible and bullying those served with summonses or infringement notices into paying up immediately.

There are currently 1929 infringements, which could carry up to five demerits per charge, and 126 offences, all of which carry up to six demerits per charge. As we know, racking up more than 12 points on your name will result in the suspension of your driving licence. Three suspensions will result in its cancellation. 

This makes it an absolute nightmare for people who spend a lot of time on the road, or people (and companies) who drive for a living, and an absolute smorgasbord for some of the most corrupt traffic officials in the world. 

The mere process of receiving and challenging an infringement notice successfully is so convoluted, risky and costly that many expect motorists will just give up out of frustration. It’s almost as if it had been designed that way. 

Those that pay the full amount within 28 days will receive 50% discount. Late payment, or contesting of fines, will attract extra fees in the form of R100 for a ‘courtesy letter’ reminder, and a further R100 for an ‘enforcement order’ to confirm the fine and demerits. These, along with any infringement notices or summonses, will automatically be deemed as received.

Motorists will also have to pay R60 to R240 to check how many demerit points they have, and will have to pay R60 per report for copies of infringement reports.

And if your licence is suspended? Well… 

” Those who rack up demerits and lose their licences face having to pay for their own rehabilitation training; if they fail, they must wait a year before trying again,” says Outa. “

There is now also a form for pretty much everything, with the new regulations expanding 37 AARTO and four NRTA forms to a staggering 51 AARTO and five NRTA forms. SAPS officials will have to be trained to complete all of these correctly, at the cost of the police service, at the cost of the taxpayer.

All fine revenue collected by the SAPS will be split evenly between the RTIA and the relevant issuing authority. The SAPS will get nothing.  

How About Those E-Tolls?

So, the new draft regulations (comprised of over a hundred pages and fistfuls of new provisions) are fast turning into an administrative circus for both motorists and the officials tasked with implementing the regulations alike. 

One of the biggest concerns, however, involves the ridiculously ineffective e-toll system, which has brought immense shame to our nation. 

Among the list of possible infringements are included charge codes 3820 and 3820. These state that the motorist ‘failed to comply with the directions conveyed by a road traffic sign by using a toll road without paying the toll charge.’

What this essentially means is that a single driver could theoretically rack up twelve demerit points in a single day from Johannesburg to Pretoria and back.

Outa has raised this as an issue before, concerned that these charges will be used against e-toll defaulters, and while the government has previously denied this to be the case, nothing has been specifically stated on black and white. 

Speaking in his medium-term budget policy statement earlier this week, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said that after considering a number of issues, it was decided that the South African government would remain committed to a ‘user-pay’ model. 

In other words, those bright, purple-lit monuments to failure dotting the Gauteng highways are here to stay, with the government moving to implement direct user charges. 

Good times all round.

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