Big problems with South Africa’s planned traffic rule changes

The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) has taken a strong stance against the draft regulations of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act which aims to introduce significant changes to the country’s driving laws.

Set to be introduced in July 2021, the Aarto will make a range of substantial changes to the country’s road rules – including the introduction of a new demerit system.

However, the AA said that the proposed changes make a mockery of the claim that the law is intended to improve road safety in South Africa, and rather point to the creation of a mechanism to improve revenue collection.

Of particular concern to the AA is the R100 Infringement Penalty Levy (IPL) charged in addition to the fine amount on every infringement notice issued.

The AA said this levy will extract R1 billion for every 10 million infringement notices issued, for functions already being performed by the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA).

“This is a disproportionate, sweeping and unjust draft regulation and is similar to having someone pay a fee to submit their tax returns; it’s an ultimately unfair surcharge for a function that is already paid for through traffic fine revenue,” the AA said.

The AA said the portion of the 2019 Aarto Amendment Act which made this possible was enacted without explanation of its intent, which the draft regulations have now made clear.

It said that there is still confusion as to whether this amount will be repaid if a successful representation is made to cancel the entire fine.

“The quiet implementation of a multi-billion rand stealth tax is an outrageous addition to the regulations.

“We urge the Department of Transport to remove it – it is neither just nor necessary and is, in our view, an example of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency, which administers Aarto, encroaching on the National Treasury’s fiscal territory,” the association said.

Other issues

Other issues which the AA believes infringes on citizens’ rights include:

  • The removal of the requirement to have detailed information to appear on infringement notices;
  • The return to the use of ordinary mail to send some infringement notices;
  • The proposal for authorities to have 60 instead of 40 days to send infringement notices after an infringement has allegedly taken place.

“The original architects of Aarto took note of the problems with postal delivery of traffic fines and realised that registered mail achieves reliable service of these notices.

“The return to ordinary mail is regressive and inexplicable, and these changes combine to create the impression that the current draft regulations have not been thought through carefully enough, and are designed to actually actively hinder citizens’ and their rights,” the AA said.

It said that the regulations will make it as difficult as possible to understand and comply with the law, encouraging citizens to simply just pay to resolve the matter quickly, even if they have legitimate contestations.

“This all supports our interpretation that these regulations are geared towards generating revenue and are not genuinely seeking to improve conditions on our roads.”

The AA said traffic law should deter motorists from non-compliance and punish offenders in a fair, just and transparent way. But, it said, the draft regulations do not achieve that goal.

“It’s worrying, for instance, that the penalty for not having an infant in an appropriate child restraint only carries a one demerit point infringement value and a R1500 fine, while failure to inform authorities of a change of personal particulars results in a massive R3,000 fine, up from the current R500.

“This is completely inconsistent with the purpose of AARTO, and pays lip service to the notion that authorities are invested in halving road deaths in the country by 2030.”

Another example are vehicles where the seatbelt doesn’t work – the owner incurs one demerit point, and a fine of R500, while failing to stop with the front of the vehicle immediately behind a stop line carries a three demerit point sanction and a R2,000 fine.

“Seatbelts can reduce death or serious injury in crashes by up to 75%. Surely if safety is key to Aarto, working seatbelts carry a greater priority than nit-picking over where a motorist stopped.

“Again, this provision does not make sense against the backdrop of the stated intentions of Aarto and what is ultimately contained in the draft regulations,” the AA said.

The AA said that while there are provisions in the draft regulations which are sound, such as those relating to driving in emergency lanes, and to the misuse of licences, much of it requires revision and reworking.

Read: Government has answered 6 important questions on South Africa’s new driving rules – including fines and demerits

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Big problems with South Africa’s planned traffic rule changes