Motorists who repeatedly endanger the lives of others by disobeying traffic rules could be made to work in hospital trauma units or assist in state mortuaries if gazetted amendments to road traffic legislation governing the demerit system are adopted.
The Road Traffic Infringement Agency is behind the proposed amendment as its mandate includes offering rehabilitation programmes to habitual offenders.
This is all part of the Administrative Adjudication of Traffic Offences Act which is subject to a pilot trial in Pretoria and Joburg. The infringement agency is hoping the demerit system will be rolled out in KwaZulu-Natal this year.
Errant drivers would also find it increasingly difficult to wriggle out of traffic fines if the legislation is passed as their tickets would be e-mailed to them.
Transport Minister Ben Martins said in a speech recently that more than 10 000 people a year died on the roads.
“Accidents affect the economy as significant funds have to be allocated to health and recuperation support for victims of road accidents,” he said. “Many people cease to be economically active as a result of physical disabilities suffered.”
When he was transport minister, S’bu Ndebele estimated the cost to the economy to be R56 billion a year.
News of the amendments comes on the heels of reports that drunk drivers have been escaping prosecution because their blood alcohol samples are not being processed timeously.
The public has been given until March 22 to comment on the proposals.
Japh Chuwe, the chief executive of the agency, said he was hoping the proposal of community service would create debate. He encouraged the public to comment. “The thought is that serious offenders understand the impact of their actions and can see the unnecessary loss of lives,” he said.
Chuwe said the programme would work alongside court processes. If cases went to court, authorities would recommend community service to the magistrate. If cases were settled out of court, offenders could agree to this punishment.
The amendments were designed to close loopholes identified during the pilot projects, and aimed to speed up and toughen enforcement.
Using electronic means to serve documents on erring motorists would be beneficial in a world of instant communication, Chuwe said.
Roy Bregman, of Bregman Attorneys, said taking offenders to see victims in mortuaries and trauma units was a technique being used worldwide.
In 2008, Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan was sentenced to eight hours of community service at a mortuary after reaching a plea deal.
The threat of punishing habitual offenders by making them face the victims of road accidents has not been welcomed by all, however.
Automobile Association spokesman Gary Ronald said the programme could change attitudes, but he did not believe it was in the public’s interest.
“Apart from a potential conflict of interest in terms of people’s right to privacy, not everyone is able to face that kind of scene, and the trauma of putting that on to someone could be debilitating.”
Cleaning out ambulances or trauma wards, on the other hand, might be a good solution as offenders were put to good use, Ronald said.
“If you look at the data, the perception is that 80 to 90 percent of crashes start with someone breaking a rule.”
For drunk driving, Ronald said it would be more helpful to make it compulsory for offenders to attend counselling.
Charlotte Sullivan, from South Africans Against Drunk Driving, said the programme would be “grossly impractical”. She also did not agree it would solve the problem of alcoholism. “Trauma units are highly stressed environments and not suitable for the (broader) public… making them work in mortuaries also sounds very good, but I don’t think it will be effective.”
Sullivan also questioned how this would be enforced.
Alta Swanepoel, a specialist consultant in road traffic and transport legislation, was concerned by the proposal, questioning at what point it would be decided that someone needed to do community service, and who would monitor it.
Swanepoel welcomed the proposal to use e-mail for fines and other correspondence. This would be the most significant change to the act, she said. -The Mercury