The big problem with the new driving demerit system

President Cyril Ramaphosa this week signed the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Bill into law, which will bring a number of changes to the country’s roads – including a new demerit system.

Implementation now awaits the law being gazetted with a commencement date. But does the new ‘driver demerit’ system have merits?

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.

“Outa has opposed this bill from the start and is now planning a constitutional challenge to it,” said Rudie Heyneke, Outa portfolio manager on transport.

He said that pilot projects in Tshwane and Johannesburg using this system over the past decade failed.

“The focus should be on road safety, not on an administratively complicated system aimed at collecting revenue,” said Heyneke.

The act sets up a demerit system for drivers, who lose points for traffic offences, which may result in the loss of a driving licence.

“Outa is also concerned that the new act will be used to force Gauteng motorists to pay e-tolls, by making it an offence to ignore road signs which could include those listing e-toll charges.

“We need solutions on road safety, but this isn’t one of them. We want to see a workable law,” said Heyneke.


It will cost you to challenge fines

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.”


It could affect your insurance premiums

Vera Nagtegaal, executive head of Hippo.co.za, said that the new demerit system, in theory, could significantly reduce road fatalities by imposing punitive action on motorists who do not adhere to the rules of the road.

However, despite its good intentions, the demerit system can also pose a significant threat to the insurance industry, which traditionally has low penetration among motor and other vehicle class owners.

Nagtegaal said that implementing the demerit system has numerous implications for the insurance industry.

“The suspension of a motorist’s license is likely to increase their insurance premiums or excess, influenced by greater perceived risk on the insurer’s part.”

This poses further applicable considerations:

  • How will an insured motorist afford higher premiums or excess when their license gets suspended?
  • Will the motorist with the suspended license forfeit their insurance cover and thereby be precluded from obtaining vehicle insurance from any other service provider?
  • How will this affect the insurance industry at large?
  • A reduction in the industry’s size will invariably lead to job losses – how will these individuals be absorbed into the labour market?

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.

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.

Instead, the focus appears to be on revenue collection, the Automobile Association said, 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.


Read: South Africa’s new driving demerit system is now law

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The big problem with the new driving demerit system