News that President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into law the latest amendments to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) has been met with praise, fear and criticism alike.
The Act is not yet in force as the President still has to announce an effective date. According to media reports, it is expected to be in June or July 2020.
The hysteria may have something to do with the mere thought of having to visit a traffic license department or undergoing a new drivers’ license test – the trauma of K53 and the whiplash from looking left-right-left, on top and underneath the car and occasionally on the road while shuffling both hands on the steering wheel and bracing for the emergency stop command still fresh in many a mind. The fear is, in part, exactly what AARTO hopes to achieve.
“AARTO’s official aim is to improve driver behaviour and thereby create safer roads,” Venashan Seerangam says. “It is a radical departure from the current road traffic infringement system where most municipalities have their own traffic courts and treat traffic infringements similar to any other criminal conduct.”
In short, the system for infringements – as opposed to more serious offences such as drunk driving – works as follows:
- The owner or driver of a vehicle gets an infringement notice similar to what is now commonly referred to as a ‘ticket’. The notice may be personally handed to the driver at the time of the infringement, or through postage.
- The owner/driver has 32 days to pay the stated fine at a 50% discount.
- If the owner/driver doesn’t respond, they will get a “courtesy letter”. “This is basically a friendly reminder not to ignore the infringement notice. But they charge you for it.”
- After 64 days, the Road Traffic Infringement Agency may obtain an enforcement order.
- The enforcement order may be executed through selling immovable assets, reporting the debtor to credit bureau.
“What if I didn’t receive the infringement notice or courtesy letters?” you may be asking for a friend.
This is where it becomes controversial, Mr Seerangam says. “In the AARTO pilot projects in Tshwane and Johannesburg, there were major challenges with the service of infringement notices as the Act required the authorities to serve it through registered mail.”
The Amendment Act now signed into law tries to remove that problem. It allows authorities to serve any document personally, through postage or electronic service, which could be e-mail, an SMS or even a WhatsApp. The law now says: “A document which is sent (through normal post or e-mail), is deemed to have been served on the infringer on the tenth day after posting the said document or of the electronic service”.
The most feared aspect of AARTO is arguably the demerit point system which could lead to a suspension or cancellation of a drivers’ license. The demerit system did not form part of the AARTO pilot projects in Tshwane and Johannesburg and those drivers will start the demerit system with all other drivers in the country.
The demerit system works as follows:
- All drivers start with 0 demerit points. Different infringements carry different demerit points from 1 to 6.
- If a driver gets to 12 points, his drivers’ license is suspended for a period of three months for every point above 12. For example, if a driver had 12 points and committed an infringement associated with two demerit points, he will have his license suspended for six months. The driver has to hand in his or her license with the authorities.
- For every three months a driver behaves and does not commit any infringement, one points get deducted.
- Someone who has had their license suspended three times, becomes a ‘habitual infringer’ and may have their license cancelled altogether. He or she would have to re-apply from scratch only after she is qualified to re-apply.
Some examples of fines and demerit points
- Driving at 71-75 km/h on an urban road with a speed limit of 60 km/h: fine of R250, no demerit points
- Driving at 86-90km/h on an urban road with a speed limit of 60km/h: fine of R1 000, 3 demerit points
- Driving at 151-155km/h on a highway with a speed limit of 120km/h: fine of R1 250, 4 demerit points
- Driving 160km and above on a highway: no option of a fine, 6 demerit points
- Stop lamps not emitting a red light when in use (cars for non-commercial use): fine of R500, 1 demerit point
- Operator of vehicle caused it to travel backwards when it could not be done in safety: fine of R100, 3 demerit points
- Operated a vehicle conveying more than 12 persons, without the required roadworthy certificate: fine of R1 000, 3 demerit points