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Aarto still stuck in the slow lane

10/07/05. Abram Makgaka was robbed by two guys who took his gun when he was setting up his speed camera. Pic Bathini Mbatha

10/07/05. Abram Makgaka was robbed by two guys who took his gun when he was setting up his speed camera. Pic Bathini Mbatha

Published Jan 30, 2015

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Johannesburg - What exactly is the hold up with Aarto? It’s been 17 years since the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act was passed into law, but after initial plans to roll it out nationally it took another 10 years to be implemented in Johannesburg and Tshwane only, and only in a “pilot phase” without the inbuilt points-demerit system.

Aarto was designed to be a more organised and fair way of handling traffic fines than the Criminal Procedure Act which is still in effect in the rest of South Africa. The plan was to penalise habitually bad drivers with a series of demerit points on their licences, which, after a certain amount would culminate in the licence being revoked. The system is one that works well in other parts of the world, but here its implementation has been choked by a number of procedural flaws.

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First and foremost is that Aarto mandates infringement notices, and then subsequent courtesy letters, and then subsequent enforcement orders must be delivered via registered post. At R20.80 a shot, the cost of posting millions of registered letters adds up astronomically and issuing authorities simply cannot afford the bill. For reference, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department issued almost six million speeding fines in 2014.

MONETARY PIPELINE BLOCKED

Then there’s the issue of a postal service in backlogged shambles with frequent strikes. Even responsible drivers who are willing to pay might not ever know of their fines, let alone the ones reluctant to pay in the first place.

It should come as no surprise that Johannesburg and Tshwane Metro Police departments aren’t happy with Aarto because their monetary pipelines are effectively blocked at the source. Recent media reports state millions of rands of lost revenue for both JMPD and TMPD, and these two departments are at the heart of claims that Aarto may be on the brink of collapse.

But is this fact or wishful thinking? According to the Road Traffic Infringement Agency which administrates Aarto procedures, all is on track. It’s only waiting for parliament to tweak the Aarto Act rules by cancelling the mandatory registered-post requirements, upon which Aarto (with the demerit points system) will be rolled out nationally.

An RTIA spokesman said: “Currently, some adjustments are being made on the system. The final assessment of the readiness of Issuing Authorities is underway and the Department of Transport would be briefing Parliament on the necessary changes to the legislation.”

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A SERIES OF CATCH-22s

But therein lies another problem. Without registered post, Aarto would metamorphosise back into a pseudo-CPA system meaning that simple offences such as speeding could result in drivers being in contempt of court without knowing they had committed a crime. Or worse, it would be possible for somebody to end up with a warrant of arrest for a crime committed by someone else. If someone borrowed your car, for instance, and was snapped by a speeding camera, the CPA’s flawed processes could have you in handcuffs before you even knew there was a fine in your name.

It’s a series of catch-22s, but there could be a simple solution. South African drivers have moaned for ages that strategically positioned speeding cameras and cops hiding in bushes with radar equipment are convenient and cowardly ways of enforcing the law. When fines are handed over to a driver face-to-face by a police officer rather than dispatched into the ether, the legal ball is already set rolling as said driver is fully aware of his or her transgression.

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The bulk (more than 90 percent) of all traffic fines in South Africa are sourced from speed cameras. Actual face-to-face situations, also known as physical policing, could also uncover drunk drivers, unlicenced drivers, and unroadworthy vehicles.

But this would of course require government and police to adjust the mindset that wayward drivers are a source of income, and accept that punishment for traffic infringements is a way of enhancing public safety. Perhaps too tall an ask. A properly functioning demerit point system could actually influence the way we drive - but it would also influence revenue collection. Why would any flourishing business want that? - Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd

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