Johannesburg - For South Africa’s habitual traffic offenders, the stroke of the president’s pen could bring dire consequences if they continue their reckless ways on the city’s roads.
The controversial demerit system, which is part of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Amendment Bill, is close to being implemented after a decade of waiting.
The new system will see traffic offenders accumulating penalty points, together with a fine.
It will work with each driver beginning with a clean slate of zero points.
Different traffic infringements will have different points. Driving without a licence will cost four demerit points. Drunk driving will be worth six demerit points, while using a cellphone while driving will cost one point. Once a driver exceeds 12 points his or her licence is suspended.
Three suspensions and the driver permanently loses the licence.
With the demerit system will come new road traffic violation rules, which will remove the courts from the AARTO process and replace them with a dedicated authority.
This amendment, which was introduced as a pilot project in Johannesburg and Tshwane back in 2008, was adopted by the National Council of Provinces.
Amendment to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences was also approved by parliament’s transport portfolio committee.
The amendment bill will now go to the National Assembly and if Parliament adopts the bill, it will go to President Cyril Ramaphosa to be signed into law.
Minister of Transport Dr Blade Nzimande this week welcomed the “progressive move” by the portfolio committee on transport to accept the final amendments on the AARTO Bill.
He argued that this legislation would go a long way in dealing with South Africa’s high road accident, as well as the death and injury, rate.
“As a country we are experiencing an average of just under 14000 deaths per annum, which equates to about 38 people every single day, who lose their lives on our roads,” Nzimande said in a statement released to the media.
Doubts about implementation
“The implementation of AARTO is among the critical interventions to reduce these fatalities and save lives on our roads.”
But other organisations don’t agree that this is the answer to road fatalities.
Automobile Association (AA) spokesperson Layton Beard agrees that a significant stride needs to be taken to make the country’s roads safer, but he is not convinced that the AARTO Amendment Bill is the answer.
He told The Saturday Star that he has doubts about the implementation of the bill and added that reducing road fatalities should be a primary concern over the collection of revenue.
“The high accident rate every year, as well as road deaths and injuries, should be the driving force of the bill and not the collection of revenue.”
Beard said the only viable long-term solution at this stage to make the roads safer was for increased and effective policing.
“There also needs to be an intensive education of drivers, including future drivers and those under the age of 16, because the rules of the road need to be taught from an early age.”
These sentiments were shared by Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), whose transport portfolio manager Rudie Heyneke also stressed the importance of visible policing.
“Studies have shown that visible policing is one of the most effective methods of crime prevention and the reducing of traffic violations,” said Heyneke.
He added that he was not confident that this legislation could enhance road safety.
Meanwhile, another element of the AARTO Amendment Bill is that traffic offences will be placed in what Nzimande described as an “effective, efficient and streamlined system” that will take the pressure off the overstretched court system.
But this feature has also been widely criticised as unconstitutional.
Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) chairperson Howard Dembovsky explained that “this is unconstitutional because it is predicated on the presumption of guilt and the constitution is predicated on the presumption of innocence.”
Beard agreed and added that the AA’s concern was around the constitutional provisions in relation to persons’ ability to challenge a fine, while Heyneke said that OUTA was outraged that the constitutionality of the amendments would take away an individual’s right to a fair trial.
Despite widespread criticism of the amendment bill, many agree that the demerit system, which could see a motorist’s drivers licence being suspended or removed, could be positive if the entire system is implemented properly.
The Department of Transport believes it will force habitual traffic offenders to face the consequences.
“It will be for the first time that government brings certainty and effective mechanism to ensure that persistent offenders are taken off the road through licence suspension/removal or loss of the operator’s licence,” said Nzimande.
“The system brings with it improved fine collection procedures and a revenue stream that will be used for improving road safety; as well as more convenient ways of paying fines,” he added.
Meanwhile, JPSA also welcomed the move provided it was implemented properly.
“We welcome the demerit system based on the principles that an individual is afforded a fair trial,” said Dembovsky, but he added that it shouldn’t just turn “driving offences into invoices”.
Beard said that the AA had always been proponents of the system.
“If it is implemented properly, it can be effective.”