File picture: Independent Media.

Habitual roadhogs could soon be taken off our roads now that the long-delayed demerit points system has edged closer to becoming law. Or if you take the pessimistic view, it could just mean more people taking a chance and driving without a licence.

The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) amendment bill was passed in the National Assembly on September 5 and will now head to the National Council of Provinces for adoption, after which it should be signed into law by President Jacob Zuma. The aim is to have it in place by the end of this financial year, i.e. by 31 March 2018.

But how will it affect you, the motorist?

The demerit system, first promulgated back in 1998, will see each driver starting on zero points and earning a certain amount of demerits points for each violation of traffic law. 

Reach 12 points and your licence will be suspended. Get three suspensions and your licence will be cancelled, upon which you have to redo your learner and driving tests afresh. 

But if you behave yourself and drive responsibly you can earn back those points; they will be reinstated at a rate of one point every three months provided you incur no more points over that period.

Driving with a suspended or cancelled licence will see your licence suspended for a further year and you could also be sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

Innocent victims

On the face of it the threat of losing their licence on top of getting a fine could be a very effective way of making unsafe drivers change their habits – a much needed thing in a country where over 14 000 people lost their lives on our roads last year.

But Howard Dembovsky, chairman of Justice Project South Africa (JPSA), warns that some motorists could become innocent victims of the new law because the demerit points will be applied against the owner of the vehicle instead of the driver. 

This means if you loan your car to someone it is you who will be slapped with demerit points instead of them, and the same applies to people driving a car belonging to a juristic entity (eg. a company car or rental car), where the demerit points will be applied to a person nominated as a proxy for the juristic entity.

“The actual drivers who commit such infringements will be able to evade the points-demerit system, by simply driving vehicles registered to juristic entities,” says Dembovsky.

The car owner or juristic entity has 32 days from the issuing of the fine to nominate who was driving the car and have the fine transferred, but it’s a period Dembovsky says is impractically short as the 32 day deadline could easily be missed due to a postal delay.

Appeals Tribunal replaces courts

Another feature of the new bill is that traffic infringements will no longer be dealt with by the courts, but through an Appeals Tribunal. Grievances of motorists will be heard by this tribunal who will be responsible for adjudicating, hearing appeals and making judgements. 

Transport minister Joe Maswanganyi said the tribunal will make dealing with infringements very easy and quick, as it will eliminate the backlog and burden of dealing with infringements through the courts. That said, if the person is not happy with the outcome they may still appeal the tribunal’s decision in the High Court.

However, Dembovsky says the fact that submissions to the tribunal must be accompanied by an application fee (a yet to be prescribed amount) is nothing more than a money-making exercise.

“Clearly delinquent drivers must be taken to task for their transgressions and suspending the driving licenses of habitual offenders may assist in that regard. However, the more the Aarto Act is tampered with, the more it focusses the disposal of what appear to be ‘bothersome provisions’ of law which stand in the way of the revenue generation process and the less it focusses on road safety.

“The Act has been amended to further weight it in favour of driving traffic fine revenues for authorities, whilst leaving motorists virtually powerless to defend themselves."

 South Africa’s road death toll is increasing year-on-year. In 2014, there were 12 702 fatalities, in 2015, this grew to 12 994 and in 2016, 14 071 deaths were recorded – an alarming increase of 1 077 from the previous year.

Drive360