Trouble for new driving laws and demerit system in South Africa

 ·24 Jun 2024

The Aarto system has been delayed due to administrative difficulties, and the willingness of some municipalities to onboard remains uncertain.

The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) system, which streamlines traffic offences and introduces a demerit points system that could lead to suspended or cancelled licences, was expected to be rolled out across South Africa from 1 July 2024.

This deadline was set after Aarto was declared constitutional and lawful by South Africa’s Constitutional Court and Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in July 2023.

The Aarto system, which has been in its trial phase for several years in Johannesburg and Tshwane, aims to introduce demerit points in addition to traffic fines for infringements.

Demerit points are applied once a fine is paid, an enforcement order is issued, or a person charged with a criminal traffic offence is convicted.

Learner drivers can only accumulate up to six points before their licences are suspended for three months.

Fully licensed drivers are given fifteen points grace before their driving permit is suspended.

However, according to Brandon Cohen, chair of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and regulatory and compliance expert, the implementation of the Aarto Act and the Aarto Amendment Act has been pushed to mid-2025.

Cohen noted that, according to the Department of Transport (DoT) chief director of road regulation, Advocate Johannes Makgatho, the onboarding of municipalities and authorities (phases 2 and 3) would only be completed by December 2024.

Additionally, the demerits system is now expected to be implemented between April and mid-2025 (phase 4), which is a notable delay as this was supposed to come into effect by September 2024 at the latest.

Despite the updated timetables, NADA believes the Aarto rollout will be delayed again.

It noted a lack of management and the significant administrative burden on a system that is not effective.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) shared a similar view to NADA, noting that despite the ruling declaring Aarto as constitutional and lawful, it doesn’t make the Act practical.

Outa said the scheme is impractical because it does not address the root causes of accidents, the risk of corruption, and “administrative cumbersomeness.”

“Remember, e-toll was legal, yet failed spectacularly,” it said.

The organisation added that it would prove to be difficult to get all 245 municipalities and seven metros to be on board before Aarto can be implemented nationwide.

A notable example is Cape Town, which highlighted that the implementation would be a mess and that it is against the idea of having the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) take 50% of the revenue collected from infringements.

Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga confirmed in May of this year that the department (DoT) was in the process of establishing the necessary structures to implement Aarto, including the appointment of the members of the Appeals Tribunal.

However, there has not been any public announcement regarding the appointment of the tribunal members.

The Automobile Association (AA) also shared its concerns about the rollout of Aarto because of the human and operational resources needed to implement it properly.

“We stand by our previous views that the Aarto legislation is geared towards revenue collection and not on promoting safer roads,” the AA said.

“Introducing legislation will not solve the country’s road safety crisis.

“This merely creates an impression of action while noting will change on the ground, where it is needed [and] as part of our contention, we point to the fact that there is no evidence that the Aarto pilot project saved a single life,” the AA added.

Read: Most expensive traffic fines in South Africa – with penalties of R1,000 or more

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