Big problems with South Africa’s new demerit system

On Saturday (5 October), Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said the start date for the new Aarto Act will soon be proclaimed and that the legislation will be ‘in full effect from June next year’.

The new laws were signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in August, despite opposition to some of the new policies.

The legislation is perhaps best known for its proposed introduction of a demerit system for South African drivers, and it is expected to fundamentally change driving in the country.

However, questions have been raised as to whether the government will be able to successfully implement the demerit system within this short time frame.

According to civil society group Outa, the system has a number of flaws and points of failure which cause significant problems.

“We’re not opposed to sanctions against bad driving or the demerit point system. However, this scheme is flawed in its administrative processes, constitutionality and ability to reduce road fatalities,” said Rudie Heyneke, Outa’s portfolio manager for Transport.

“Outa opposed this law from when the Amendment Bill was published in 2015. Our engagements in parliament and letters to the president have been ignored. Outa will now challenge the constitutionality of the Aarto Amendment Act in court.”

Outa said that traffic fatalities are largely due to poor enforcement of traffic laws, a lack of traffic infringement management and a variety of problems in the management of vehicle and driver licensing.

It added that the new legislation is not designed to address these problems.

Problems 

In July, Outa wrote to President Ramaphosa, asking him not to sign it into law, saying that it does not withstand constitutional scrutiny.

The concerns outlined in the letter include:

  • Given the serious nature of the consequences that may follow an infringement, the act does not provide for adequate service to infringers but relies heavily on the post office;
  • The Appeals Tribunal set up by the act provides for one tribunal staffed by a chairperson and eight other members (appointed on a part-time basis) to service the whole of South Africa. This is vastly insufficient given the number of matters that it will be required to hear. This will result in a serious backlog in the system and will ultimately violate the constitutional rights of infringers (including their rights to just administrative action and a fair hearing).

“The Aarto system requires the setting up of a Tribunal, with members, the publication of regulations – which should involve public participation – and the setting up of a bureaucracy which can handle the infringement alerts and objections.

“It seems unlikely that government will be ready in time,” said Advocate Stefanie Fick, Outa’s chief legal officer.


Read: South Africa’s new demerit system will be in full effect by June 2020 – here’s what will get your licence suspended

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Big problems with South Africa’s new demerit system