Road traffic enforcement may change radically in April next year when the long-awaited Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (Aarto) takes effect countrywide.
It will also be used for the enforcement of Gauteng’s controversial e-tolls, but that is only a small part of it.
The most important features include the demerit points system that will see the drivers licences of habitual transgressors suspended or revoked and it being a civil, rather than a criminal process aimed at relieving the burden on the courts.
Aarto has seen many false starts since its promulgation in 1998.
At first it was only implemented on a pilot basis in Johannesburg and Tshwane and previous efforts to roll it out countrywide were strongly opposed by among others the City of Cape Town.
The demerit points system has not been tested and the pilot projects saw massive administrative problems with at least one court challenge ruled against the authorities and another pending.
Registrar of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) Japh Chuwe (pictured) however says things have changed for the better. It seems some of the main stakeholders are also carefully optimistic.
RTIA is the Department of Transport agency tasked with Aarto implementation. It took several years for it to be properly established and in the early years it was hopelessly underfunded.
Chuwe is confident that RTIA now has the necessary capacity to implement Aarto successfully.
He says the legislative amendments to be effected before countrywide implementation are at an advanced stage and will make the implementation easier and less costly.
Electronic service of documents
Currently all Aarto documents have to be served either in person or by registered mail. Apart from being very expensive, this has been a huge issue in terms of reliability. Aarto functions within strict timelines. An infringement notice, for example, has to be responded to within 32 days to qualify for a 50% discount. If not, a courtesy letter follows with a R60 administrative fee and a further limited timeline for payment. If that is not complied with, an enforcement order follows and the eNatis account of the vehicle owner is blocked, affecting all the vehicles they own and preventing them from renewing licences, and registering or deregistering vehicles. This is a huge issue for fleet owners.
In Tshwane and Johannesburg the service by the Post Office has been a huge issue, according to René Venter, manager of Avax SA 466 and Cornelia van Niekerk, owner of Fines4U. Both businesses administer traffic fines on behalf of corporate and private clients. Sometimes the notice is issued after the discount period has lapsed and often the notice is never delivered, due to faulty addresses in the eNatis database they say.
An amendment will be made to the Act to provide for electronic service of documents by the Post Office and other service providers, says Chuwe. This will be a more formal process than just sending an e-mail into cyber space, as the agency will have to get proof that delivery has indeed taken place, he says. People who don’t have access to e-mail will still get their notices through traditional methods.
The contact details of vehicle owners will be updated through a FICA-like process that the Department of Transport will embark on in October, Chuwe says.
Currently the non-payment of an infringement may result in the refusal to issue licence discs, but also in the blocking of all eNatis transactions relating to the owner of that vehicle.
In practice this has had a huge impact on especially fleet owners in Johannesburg and Tshwane, according to Venter and Van Niekerk. Fleet owners usually stagger licence renewals and even vehicle replacements. The non-payment of one infringement on one vehicle – that the owner may not even have been aware of due to defective service of documents – can result in licence renewals, registrations and de-registrations being withheld for the whole fleet. Car dealers are especially vulnerable in this regard.
Chuwe says the amendment will provide for only the relevant vehicle’s eNatis transactions being blocked. It will be vehicle-based, not owner-based.
Warrants of execution
The current Act provides for warrants of execution for outstanding fines. In short, if you don’t pay outstanding traffic fines, the sheriff will come to your house, take for example your TV or couch and sell it to settle the debt.
This module, that has never been tested, will be scrapped in total. The process will end with the enforcement order and eNatis block, says Chuwe.
The amendments will further provide for rehabilitation programmes. Chuwe says the ultimate aim of Aarto is to change the behaviour of motorists to improve road safety. He says the system will automatically flag habitual offenders guilty of risky behaviour like skipping a red light. Such drivers will have to undergo rehabilitation programs in order to reduce their demerit points or restore their drivers licences once they have been suspended. The agency hopes this will result in improved driver behaviour.
Chuwe says the non-payment of e-tolls will not attract demerit points.
Drivers who approach a prescribed threshold of demerit points for other offences will be warned of the pending suspension of their drivers licences. Once they exceed the threshold, their drivers licences will be suspended for three months for every point above the threshold. At a certain point the licence will be cancelled and they will have to wait for a prescribed period before being allowed to apply for a learners’ licence and thereafter a new drivers licence, Chuwe says.
Fleet owners have been very concerned about real-time access to employees’ demerit point status. Chuwe says interested parties will have real-time access, although they need the permission of the driver to access the information.
Operators like vehicle rental companies will have limited access to driver information, for example a mere ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to indicate whether a specific client should be allowed behind the wheel.
Ready for roll-out?
Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) director Gerrie Gerneke earlier told Moneyweb problems with Aarto, including the reconciliation of funds to be transferred between issuing authorities and RTIA, have been resolved. He believes the system is ready for the countrywide roll-out.
City of Cape Town member of the mayoral committee JP Smith said the city will attend a meeting with the Western Cape provincial government within the next week or two to decide whether it will support the roll-out. The decision will be informed by a checklist of measures that have to be in place for a successful roll-out. He says inclusion of the demerit points system and reduced reliance on the Post Office for the service of documents are in his view deal breakers.
President of the South African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (Savrala), Marc Corcoran, says Savrala welcomes all measures aimed at improving road safety.
It however remains concerned about the current administrative burden on members to redirect infringement notices to foreign drivers. “We believe some of the shortcomings in Aarto have been addressed and would like an updated report on those changes,” he said.
Venter and Van Niekerk are less optimistic. Venter says the devil is in the detail with Aarto. She says RTIA does not stick to timelines with regard to especially the redirection of infringement notices. Redirection happens when the owner of a vehicle informs RTIA that someone else was driving the vehicle at the time of the infringement and should therefore be held liable. The agency then has to cancel the initial notice and re-issue it to the driver. Venter believes undue delays by the agency should be penalised.
Van Niekerk, who has won a previous court application against the JMPD regarding its failure to service Aarto notices by registered mail, has challenged RTIA now with regards to its alleged failure to process notices and redirections timeously and properly. The case will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court on June 8.