The Justice Project SA (JPSA) has called on government to “throw out” the controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act and revert to the Criminal Procedures Act (CPA) for traffic law enforcement.
This call has been supported by the Automobile Association (AA) at a media briefing hosted by the National Press Club in Pretoria. AA spokesperson Layton Beard, says government should go back to the drawing board and prioritise road safety.
JPSA chairman Howard Dembovsky illustrated one of the possible effects of the Amendment Bill as follows:
A company with a fleet of 1 000 cars appoints its fleet manager as proxy (representative). Five hundred of the cars each get a speeding fine with one demerit point. If the fleet manager decides to pay all the fines, but fails to nominate the real drivers within 32 days, he will be awarded 500 demerit points against his own driver’s licence and would be prohibited from driving because he exceeds the maximum of 12 demerit points. The suspension period per demerit point above the threshold (488 points) is three months, which means it will take 122 years before he can resume driving. Dembovsky says no nomination is allowed after the 32-day period, which is very short in the context of a large company.
The Aarto Act has been in force in Pretoria and Johannesburg as pilot projects for almost a decade. These projects have been characterised by administrative failures, court challenges and financial problems for the authorities issuing infringement notices and the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) tasked with administering the Act.
Government later introduced the Aarto Amendment Bill that is now in the last stages of the parliamentary process before being made law. The bill was expected to solve problems in the current act, but according to Dembovsky it is still deeply flawed.
It is government’s stated objective to roll out Aarto, including a points demerit system, countrywide once the Amendment Bill has been enacted.
Dembovsky called on motorists to take the last opportunities for public comment on the bill as it is presented to the National Council of Provinces to voice their concerns. It has already been adopted by the National Assembly.
Dembovsky warns that fleet owners will be exposed to considerable risk should the bill in its current form be enacted.
He says that, in terms of the amendments, not only driving licences and operator cards may be suspended or cancelled when the maximum number of demerit points have been awarded. “Permits and operating licences issued in accordance with any road transport legislation will also be included.”
That means a school bus company might have its permit to transport school children suspended for three months if any of its vehicles exceed the maximum number of demerit points, Dembovsky explains.
Electronic service of infringement notices will be allowed, and the bill provides for a presumption of successful service. Dembovsky says this means the authorities may presume the alleged infringer has received an infringement notice ten days after sending an email or posting it on the person’s social media page. This would entitle authorities to proceed with the process and should the infringer take no action (perhaps because he is unaware of the notice) issue an enforcement order blocking his licences and permits.
The infringer will no longer have the option to elect to be tried in court, but should make written representations to the RTIA. If rejected, he could appeal to a Tribunal within 30 days and if unsuccessful may approach the High Court for relief.
The implementation of Aarto has thus far seen several court challenges with regard to procedural issues and the authorities have been found wanting. Dembovsky points out that the Amendment Bill protects authorities in this regard by providing that unsuccessful representations on the basis of procedural issues may be reissued within six months of the alleged infringement.
He says the bill seeks to strengthen the reverse onus, where motorists will have to prove their innocence instead of being innocent until proven guilty. If an alleged infringer fails to take action “the so-called adjudication procedure will proceed full steam ahead, culminating in the issuing of an enforcement order”.
Dembovsky explains that an enforcement order results in the blocking of the issuing of a driver’s licence, professional driving permit and vehicle licence disk as well as any licence or permit issued in terms of any road traffic or transport legislation.
Proxies for juristic persons like companies who are not operators will now also attract demerit points for infringements committed by other people driving the company’s vehicles, unless he nominates the real driver within 32 days.
Beard said road safety was no feature of the Amendment Bill and there was no sign that road safety has improved since the implementation of Aarto in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
He said the bill had been drafted badly in English that it was difficult to understand, which has resulted in confusion among the general public.
Rolling out Aarto countrywide would merely multiply the problems Johannesburg and Pretoria are currently facing with the system in other parts of the country.
He has called on government to go back to the drawing board and approach the matter with road safety as prime objective.