South Africa’s new demerit system set to be signed into law

The National Assembly voted in favour of South Africa’s controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) bill on Tuesday (5 March).

With the bill having passed both houses, it will now be sent to president Cyril Ramaphosa for assent and to be signed into law.

Ramaphosa also has discretion as to when the new laws will officially come into effect.

The amendment bill 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 bill.

Controversy

While the national amendment bill has existed in some form for more than four years, it has been a constant source of controversy, with a number of civil society group and legal experts stating that the bill is unlikely to have any of the intended impact on South African driving habits.

“The Aarto Bill will not have the desired effect of enhanced road safety as we have seen little change in road users behaviour during the Aarto pilot project run in Tshwane and Johannesburg over the past decade,” said Rudie Heyneke, Outa’s transport portfolio manager.

Heyneke added that in its current form the bill paves the way for corruption, it is administratively cumbersome, and will make it more difficult for motorists to refute e-tolls.

However, minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande has welcomed the potential benefits of the bill.

“As a country, we are experiencing an average of just under 14,000 deaths per annum, which equates to about 38 people every single day, who lose their lives on our roads,” said Nzimande in February.

“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 license suspension/removal or loss of the operators’ licences,” he said.

“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.”

Nzimande said that Aarto will also enable government to:

  • Overcome the wide discrepancies in the penalties imposed by different magistrates (or applied in different jurisdictions) for the same types of traffic violations;
  • Ensure uniformity in the different sentencing norms for the majority of serious traffic violations which are generally too low to be adequately prohibitive;
  • Ensure that sentences are more appropriately attuned to the differential capacity of offenders to pay – hence creating the need for alternative sentencing options;
  • Be tough on those who do not pay fines imposed and those who ignore summonses to appear in court.

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South Africa’s new demerit system set to be signed into law