DoT to appeal high court ruling on Aarto

While parliament looks to reduce the legal blood alcohol content and breath alcohol concentration limits of motorists to zero.
Aarto has been two decades in the making, but Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula is not ready to give up on it. Image: GCIS

The Department of Transport (DoT) has decided to appeal the ruling of the Pretoria High Court declaring the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act and the Aarto Amendment Act unconstitutional and invalid.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula confirmed this on Tuesday at a function at the Grasmere Toll Plaza at which he released the 2021 festive season fatality statistics.

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage believes the DoT can continue to implement the two Aarto acts once it has lodged its appeal.

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However, Duvenage stressed it would be foolish for Mbalula to, for instance, commit to investing R500 million in a system that would try and manage traffic fines and the demerit points system “with this sword hanging over his head” and the possibility of it becoming “futile expenditure”.

Duvenage said the DoT is entitled to appeal the judgment and Outa will be part of the proceedings if an appeal is lodged.

It was Outa that brought the application that led to the two acts being declared unconstitutional and invalid.

Alcohol limit

Mbalula also confirmed that parliament is currently “seized” with the proposed amendments to the National Road Traffic Act to reduce the permissible alcohol limit for motorists as part of a continuing drive by the DoT to use legislative instruments to strengthen the road traffic regulatory framework.

“We believe this is an important element in our efforts to arrest the scourge of fatalities on our roads,” he said.

In terms of these proposed amendments, the current legal blood alcohol content limit for drivers of 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres and breath alcohol concentration of 0.24g/1 000ml will be reduced to zero.

Festive season statistics

Mbalula said traffic officers arrested 6 169 motorists – 1 586 of them for drunken driving – in the 2021 festive season.

He said a total of 4 251 unroadworthy vehicles were discontinued while 4 073 vehicles were impounded.

Traffic officers conducted 651 roadblocks countrywide during the campaign and issued 264 690 fines for various traffic offences.

He said 21 431 fines were for drivers who failed to wear seatbelts and 22 766 were for people who were driving without licences.

A total of 1 685 fatalities were recorded over this festive period, which is a 14% increase on the previous period, he added.

Staying on point

Mbalula emphasised the importance of the Aarto acts, which provide for the introduction of a driving licence points demerit system.

“It is our intention to ensure that the law bites and driving on our roads without a driving licence carries a heavy penalty, otherwise the mooted points demerit system will make no difference in driver behaviour,” he said.

Mbalula said the department’s arsenal of interventions aimed at delivering a reduction of 25% of fatalities on South Africa’s roads includes policy and legislative interventions.

He said the design of South Africa’s road traffic management system is premised on the appreciation that while provincial roads, traffic and parking fall within the ambit of exclusive provincial legislative competence, “maintaining national norms and standards is necessary to ensure effective performance by municipalities of their executive authority”.

The Road Accident Fund factor

Mbalula added that there is no better illustration of the need to maintain the economic unity of South Africa and arrest the negative impact of road fatalities and crashes on the economy than the reality that the long-term liabilities of the Road Accident Fund (RAF) are now government’s largest contingent liability.

The DoT anticipates that claims against the RAF will increase to R518.7 billion in the 2023/2024 financial year.

“A fragmented system that fails to recognise the importance of a system grounded on national norms and standards in order to maximise its effectiveness will only result in chaos and serve as a perverse incentive for unlawful behaviour,” said Mbalula.

“This principle is evident in all our laws that regulate road traffic matters in the country, with the primary legislation regulating road traffic being the National Road Traffic Act of 1996.

“This law is further bolstered by the Road Traffic Management Act of 1998, which establishes an institutional arrangement that recognises the executive authority of provinces and municipalities.

“[Aarto] provides an adjudication system for infringements of the rules of the road determined by the National Road Traffic Act.

“Aarto is the final piece of the puzzle in the implementation of a new road traffic management system by the democratic state.

“The importance of Aarto in driving behaviour change of motorists and providing disincentives for unbecoming conduct cannot be overemphasised,” said Mbalula.

“It is for these reasons that we have decided to appeal the ruling of the Pretoria High Court declaring the Aarto Act unconstitutional and invalid.”

Outa hopes Mbalula has applied his mind

Duvenage said the DoT will have to appeal the judgment in the Constitutional Court, adding that Outa is in the process of filing a confirmation application to the Constitutional Court for it to confirm the Pretoria High Court ruling.

“But we hope he [Mbalula] has applied his mind and has proper, sound legal advice before he goes down this road and it’s not a knee-jerk reaction because government can just do this and use taxpayers money and appeal everything,” he said.

Duvenage said Mbalula’s comments about the rationale for the appeal are still indicative that “he is running roughshod over the unconstitutionality” of it.

“He [Mbalula] has 12 years of the experience of this thing [Aarto] being on trial in Johannesburg and Tshwane and he has got nothing to prove that [it changes driver behaviour].

“Outa has said that the notion of a demerit points system is a noble one. We also want to have good driver behaviour but you can’t legislate stuff that doesn’t change behaviour necessarily. You have to introduce proper policing,” he said.

Automobile Association (AA) spokesperson Layton Beard said the high court has made a ruling on Aarto and a lot of time and money has been spent on Aarto.

“The time has come for us to look forward at perhaps getting something off the ground that is going to be workable rather than looking at reviving a system that has been more than two decades in the making and has not got off the ground yet,” he said.

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If we caught a tenth of the people with alcohol over 0.1 it would be a much bigger impact on road safety than catching everybody with 0.01 to 0.05

One beer = dangerously illegal = silly

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