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AARTO’s Demerit System

INTRODUCTION

South African motorists who commit traffic offences will soon receive demerit points which can lead to their licenses being suspended, and ultimately challenged. The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (“AARTO”) Act has, since 2008, proposed a demerit system for road infringements, to be effective as from 1 July 2021. The AARTO Act was assented to and signed by the President on 13 August 2019, with implementation being hampered by the raging COVID-19 pandemic that has SA in a tight grip. The proposed demerit system is however not left unchallenged, as it is argued that this system will cause more harm than good considering that the vast administrative implication of the system, which will likely trump the intended rehabilitative effects thereof. This article seeks to debunk the merits of the proposed demerit system within the realm of its objectives.

THE OBJECTIVES OF THE DEMERIT SYSTEM

The proposed demerit system seeks to promote road traffic quality by providing a scheme that discourages road traffic conventions; that will facilitate the adjudication of traffic infringements, and one that will support the prosecution thereof. It furthermore seeks to remove routine road traffic offences from overcrowded court rolls as the infringer is not afforded the opportunity to go on trial.

Ultimately it aims at encouraging better driver behavior by introducing a programme which rehabilitates habitual infringers only and to migrate traffic fines out of the courts and into an administrative action scheme. To put things simply, this scheme means that the motorist, must act or react, and upon failure to do so, the system will progress to a point where demerit points will be added to the motorist’s name.

THE JUST OF THE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Each driver will start with zero points and will receive demerits for approximately 1000 possible violation infringements. The points are allocated according to the infringement or offences committed, of which there are differing values for different infringements and offences (see Schedule 3 of the proposed AARTO Act regulations). Points are allocated on the date at which the penalty is paid or when one is convicted of the offence, of which operators of a private company will receive points separately from their drivers, as it will be allocated to the operator’s permit. The maximum threshold of demerit points to be reached is 15, after which, one’s license (or operator card) will be suspended for 3 months with effect from 32 days after the threshold was exceeded. The license suspension period is calculated in months equal to the number of points exceeding the maximum threshold, multiplied by three of which the number of demerits added will depend on the severity of the offence. Should a driver or operator be disqualified for the third time, the person will permanently lose the license or operator card and would then have to, after the expiry of the disqualification period, reapply for testing and issue. Lastly, the demerit points against a driver or operator will be reduced at a flat rate of one point per every 3 months (or prescribed otherwise), except where it is quite evident that the person has deliberately delayed the process to reduce the points against him or her. 

THE THREE STAGES OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Pursuant to the basic principles as mentioned above, the AARTO Act proposes three stages to be implemented. Firstly, the infringement notices, which is issued when one is stopped by a traffic officer, caught on camera, or issued with a parking fine. Depending on the offence committed and the days required for service of the notice, pursuant to 32 days passing after service of the notice, one may pay the fine at 50% discount and have the demerit points applied to your license or make a written representation to the RTIA as to why you should not be held accountable for the infringement. However, note, an Infringement Penalty Levy (“IPL”) of R100 will be added when an infringement notice is issued. If one fails to react to the infringement notice within 32 days of its actual service, a courtesy letter will be issued and served which will remove the 50% discount and will add R100 to the total payable. One can settle the full penalty, plus the R100 fee for the courtesy letter, and the IPL, within 32 days after service of the letter. However, failure to do so within the prescribed 32 days, one will be served with an enforcement order where an additional R100 is added to the cumulative penalty, IPL, and fee for the courtesy letter.

Once one reaches the stage of being served with an enforcement order, the demerit points will be applied to your license or vehicle license disc and will block all licensing transactions.

DEBUNKING THE PROPOSED POINTS-DEMERIT SYSTEM

The demerit-point system is and has been criticized by many and created serious concerns from various interested parties. One cannot even begin to imagine nor fathom the administrative implications that these regulations pursuant to the three-stage process will have on the RTIA.

One such party is the Organization Undoing Tax Abuse (“OUTA”) who argues that the Bill will not even achieve the designated purpose of improving road safety, and further contends that the system is logistically cumbersome to the actual point of being potentially unconstitutional and could pave the way for corruption, as it could be more focused on the collection of revenue.

The just of the criticism against the system is that it goes against the basic principle of innocent until proven guilty, because when one considers the onset of the first stage, the infringement notice, a traffic officer claims that one is guilty of committing a road traffic infringement, of which one cannot prove the opposite thereof. Irrespective of whether guilty or not, or whether the penalty is settled in full at the early stages of being served with the infringement notice, demerit points will still be applied against one’s name, which if accumulated, could lead to one’s license being suspended, and/or, cancelled.

Simply put, South Africa will have to see whether the proposed system holds more demerits than merits.