The chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport, Mosebenzi Zwane says that opposition to the Administrative and Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act, are misinformed.
President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Aarto Amendment Bill into law last week, which will bring about sweeping changes to the road laws in the country, including a controversial new demerit system, which aims to make roads safer by coming down harder on violators.
While the demerit system has been supported in theory, many organisations have argued that the lack of enforcement of current laws and capacity by traffic authorities means the new system will likely be ineffective in its goals, and have therefore threatened to take it for constitutional review.
In a statement on Tuesday (21 August), Zwane said opposition to Aarto is ‘misinformed’, as detailed participatory processes were undertaken where concerns raised were given due consideration.
“Both Houses of Parliament undertook comprehensive and exhaustive participatory processes after the bill was tabled. Similar processes were undertaken by the government. Stakeholders had ample opportunity to influence the processes,” said Zwane.
Zwane cautioned that activist groups should not play opposition to government’s efforts of improving the lives of South Africans.
“Opposition to Aarto is misinformed, especially that people are scrambling at issues they want reviewed. No stakeholder was closed outside of the public participation process, and all input was taken into consideration during the process of finalising the bill,” he said.
South Africans should instead seek to make this constitutionally sound Aarto Act effective, and work to enhance it so that it benefited the broader society, Zwane said.
“The committee remains of the view that the implementation of the Aarto Act, as amended, will assist in reducing the carnage on our roads, and give law enforcement officers the required tools to bring law breakers to book.”
According to civil rights group, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), there are concerns that the bill will not improve road safety, adding that “it is logistically cumbersome to the point of being potentially unconstitutional, and paves the way for corruption”.
Outa said that it originally called for the bill to be amended, however, the final version does not take into consideration its concerns.
Howard Dembovsky‚ chairperson of the Justice Project SA, said that the demerit system is not the problem, “what’s problematic is that it’s an administrative system where an accused person does not go on trial”.
“Essentially if a traffic officer says that you are guilty of committing a road traffic infringement, that is the long and the short of it. You are guilty and you don’t even get a chance to prove yourself innocent.”
Dembovsky said that should one wish to appeal a finding, “in terms of the act, you have to make a written representation. If that representation is unsuccessful, you have to apply to a tribunal within 30 days, and pay a fee for it to listen to you review.
“If you’re still not happy with the outcome of the tribunal, then you have to within a further 30 days, institute a review application in a magistrate’s court.”
The Automobile Association expressed concern that the new bill appears to to focus on revenue collection, with other provisions in the act suited to making it easier for authorities to deliver fines and hold vehicle licence renewals to ransom over unpaid fines.
What has changed?
The amendment act is expected to fundamentally change driving in South Africa, with some of the biggest changes including:
- Failing to pay traffic fines can lead to a block on obtaining driving and vehicle licences and an administrative fee – in addition to other penalties;
- Where documents previously had to be delivered by registered mail through the post office, in terms of the amendment, authorities will now also be able to serve documents electronically and can send reminders via WhatsApp and SMS;
- A new demerit system will be introduced. Depending on the severity of the offence, 1-6 points are allocated for offences. If an infringer has more than 12 points, it will result in the disqualification of the driving licence and three suspensions result in its cancellation;
- The establishment of a new Appeals Tribunal which will preside over issues that are raised under the new act.
Arguably the biggest change in the laws is the demerit system which aims to make South Africa’s roads safer by coming down harder on violators.
Depending on the severity of an offence, 1-6 points are allocated. If an infringer has more than 12 points, it will result in the disqualification of the driving licence and three suspensions result in its cancellation.