The Automobile Association (AA) has welcomed the High Court ruling which found that the controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (Aarto) is unconstitutional, and proposed a way forward for traffic laws and fines in the country.
The AA, which has previously described Aarto as ‘unworkable’ and geared towards revenue collection instead of promoting road safety, said the system has been a massive waste of taxpayers’ money which had done nothing to remedy South Africa’s shocking road death rate.
While some analysts have indicated that government will need to return to the drawing board in its implementation of the Aarto, the AA said that this would serve no purpose as the system is already outdated.
“Aarto was assented to in 1998, and its design started much earlier. The court itself has found that the deficiencies are not curable. After almost a quarter of a century of failure, the government would be wise to concede defeat,” it said.
Instead, the AA said that traffic fines should continue to be dealt with in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA), with some legislative amendments made to protect motorists in cases where delivery of fines and service of summonses was not conducted in accordance with the law.
A points-demerit system, which is one of the keystones of Aarto, could still be implemented as part of this judicial process, the AA said.
“This is how points-demerit has been implemented in other parts of the world for half a century or longer. The AA itself called for such a system as long ago as 1963, and we would be willing to work with the government to help create it, just as we have assisted in developing many other aspects of traffic law,” the association said.
The way forward
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has noted the judgement handed down by High Court declaring the Aarto Act invalid but has not indicated what the government’s next step will be.
“The minister is studying the judgement and will be guided by legal advice on whether to appeal the judgement or not,” the department said.
The opposition Democratic Alliance has welcomed the court’s decision, stating that the act infringed on road user rights to administrative justice due to its arbitrary demerit system.
“The Aarto Act and the Aarto Amendment Act sought to create the quasi-judicial Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA), whose mandate was to adjudicate traffic offences and decide whether a traffic offender can approach a court of law.
“This was obviously a violation of Section 34 and 35 of the Constitution which affords everyone the right to have a fair trial and to have a dispute resolved in a public hearing before a court of law,” it said.
The DA said that Aarto Acts were going to be devastating for businesses that had operator class vehicles that passed through e-toll gantries. If a truck driver with an operator class vehicle received a fine of R500 for every e-toll gantry they passed through without paying e-tolls, they would lose one demerit point.
“Worse still, the Aarto Acts sought to centralise traffic management at a national level and usurp the authority of provincial and local authorities.
“This was not only an infringement on the constitutional demarcations governing the three spheres of government, but it also exposed a disturbing and growing culture within the ANC government to punt centralisation as a solution to their self-created governance failures,” the party said.