New road laws will hit South Africa in July – but the demerit system will come later

 ·26 May 2021

The Department of Transport announced the official rollout of the Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act from 1 July 2021.

However, Transport director-general Alec Moemi has confirmed that the act will not be introduced all at once, but rather over five different stages.

Briefing parliament this week, Moemi said that the first phase will entail setting up the registry and other requirements, with the ultimate goal of working towards the introduction of a demerit system.

While Moemi did not specify on which date the demerit system itself would be implemented, he said that 1 July will just be the first ‘roll of the die’ of the country’s new road rules.

The Aarto will penalise drivers and fleet operators who are guilty of traffic offences or infringements by imposing demerit points that could lead to the suspension or cancellation of licences, professional driving permits or operator cards.

It will also encourage the payment of fines and reduce the burden on South African courts, by removing the initial option to elect to appear in court.

The number of points incurred will be dependent on the nature of the traffic offence or charge. Currently, there are over 2,500 separate charges.

All drivers will start with zero points. Once the limit of points is exceeded, a driving licence is suspended for three months. Driving a vehicle during this ‘prohibition period’ is a criminal offense, subject to a fine or jail time.

If a licence is suspended for the third time, it will be cancelled, and a driver must start from scratch with a learner’s licence, etc. Demerit points do decrease by one point every three months, so drivers can work their way back down to zero.

Concerns over phased roll out 

The Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) has previously warned that the Covid-19 pandemic and reliance on third parties could lead to administrative issues with the rollout.

The agency said that the planned system is heavily reliant on a number of outside parties, including the Department of Transport and the South African Post Office, and that any compromised state of readiness may expose it to litigation.

For the new system to work, the RTIA said that it needs for all of the following to be in place:

  • The Aarto Act prescribes collaborating with the South African Post Office in discharging Aarto responsibilities.
  • The administration of the Aarto value chain is further dependent on the NCR which is administered by the Road Traffic Management Corporation.
  • A further reliance is on the Department of Transport to support the Presidency in the establishment of the Appeals Tribunal.
  • The Government Printing Works is responsible for printing the Aarto notice books.

“The certainty on the state of readiness by all external stakeholders remains a challenge and out of the control of the RTIA,” it said.

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