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New Aarto bill a shock for motorists

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Independent Newspapers

STOP RIGHT THERE: Police officers halt cars at a roadblock. The Aarto amendment bill is designed to give teeth to existing road traffic laws, say officials.Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Back to the yard test and an appointment with the dreaded driving test examiner may seem a trip back in time, but for South Africa’s drivers it might soon be a reality.

The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) amendment bill is to give teeth to existing road traffic laws and, under it, offenders will receive demerit points against their licences.

Lose enough points, and drivers can have their licences suspended.

Once a driving licence is suspended, the motorist will have to go through the process of getting a learner’s licence and passing a driving test from scratch.

And there is more. If a fine has been sent to a motorist and they don’t respond by a certain time, a warrant of execution can be issued for the sheriff to attach goods.

MAJOR ERRORS

The Aarto amendment bill was published for public comment a month ago, but the Justice Project SA has said there are such major errors that it needs to be scrapped and rewritten.

They have submitted an 18-page comment on the bill to the Department of Transport.

Public comments on the Aarto amendment bill closed last month, but the chairman of the Justice Project, Howard Dembovsky, said he had not even received an acknowledgement that his comments were received.

Aarto has been operating in a pilot format in Joburg and Pretoria since 2008, with the intention to roll it out nationwide soon.

The bill intends to give the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) more power to carry out its mandate, such as being notified if a motorist has failed to pay a fine, and it will be able to review appeals on fine representations.

The amendment bill also makes it legal to contact the public through electronic means and not just through registered mail.

But the Justice Project makes it clear in its comments to the department that there are major problems with the way the amendment bill has been worded – some so serious that it goes against the constitution.

Dembovsky said part of the reasoning behind Aarto was that it would correct delinquent behaviour, but he asks how imposing demerit points and suspending driving licences would do this.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

The bill states that once a driving licence has been suspended, the motorist will be able to start the new process of getting a licence only after one year has passed.

Dembovsky argued: “Once a fine is sent to you and you do not respond within a certain time frame, you will not be able to renew your driving licence on the eNatis system.

“After enough time has passed, the registrar can issue a warrant of execution for your goods to be attached by a sheriff.

“Where in this process have you been given a chance to prove you did not commit the offence?”

Dembovsky also questioned why the RTIA registrar does not need any judicial background to get the job even though his powers are similar to those of a magistrate because he can issue warrants of execution when fines are not paid.

“Warrants of execution are typically issued by magistrates or judges and not by what is effectively the CEO of a corporation.

“So little care has been exercised by the agency thus far in the so-called ‘pilot’ that it is untenable that it should be thought that the registrar should have the power to issue warrants for the collection of cash/seizure of goods without so much as putting the matter before a court,” the Justice Project told the department.

Gary Ronald, spokesman for the AA, agreed that even the pilot study hadn’t been implemented properly.

Ronald said he was concerned that the RTIA could make a decision on a representation and then also preside on the appeal of that decision.

However, Japh Chuwe, the registrar of the RTIA, said the programme would help to deal with those breaking the rules.

“It will make them more compliant and it will help change their behaviour,” he said. -The Star


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