OPINION | Maybe it’s time to ditch Aarto

11 February 2021 - 09:15 By Denis Droppa
Aarto’s critics say it won’t help road safety and paves the way for corruption. Picture: REUTERS
Aarto’s critics say it won’t help road safety and paves the way for corruption. Picture: REUTERS

The controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (Aarto), which includes the licence points demerit system, has been hit by its latest controversy after the CEO of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) was suspended last week on claims of maladministration.

Japh Chuwe, CEO of the RTIA which is responsible for administration of Aarto, was suspended on February 5 after the auditor-general made allegations of “serious maladministration” by Chuwe and other senior officials.

The long-delayed Aarto bill was scheduled to be implemented in July 2021 after the act was passed in 1998. The department of transport aims to penalise habitual offenders by imposing penalty points on their licences in addition to a fine, a system that has had success in other countries, but various road safety bodies and automotive organisations have criticised Aarto for being little more than a money-making scheme.

One of the most vocal critics of Aarto has been the AA, which argues that the demerit system looks to be geared more towards revenue collection than road safety.

The fact that similar fines and demerits are proposed for not wearing a seatbelt and for driving an unregistered vehicle point to road users’ safety not being the government’s primary concern, argued the association. The AA’s view was that not wearing a seatbelt should carry a much stiffer monetary punishment and accompanying high-value points demerit, if making our roads safer is the objective.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has also opposed the bill from the start and is challenging it in court.

It called Aarto an unenforceable law that won’t help to address the road accident problem, pointing out that Aarto pilot projects in Joburg and Tshwane didn’t have any clear effect on road safety.

Outa maintains Aarto wouldn’t improve road safety, that it is logistically cumbersome to the point of being potentially unconstitutional, and paves the way for corruption.

SA’s Road Freight Association (RFA) has called on Aarto to be scrapped following Chuwe’s suspension last week. The association has been concerned about Aarto’s susceptibility to fraud, corruption, and money laundering, and says the RTIA’s latest announcement is confirmation of its worst fears.

Once Aarto is implemented, the RTIA will be handling billions of rands, says the RFA, and questions how one can now trust the entity, especially when the dishonesty and corruption is allegedly at the highest level in the agency.

The association, which represents SA’s trucking industry, says SA already faces huge corruption, extortion and intimidation at the hands of traffic police on a daily basis and this latest development has highlighted how rampant dishonesty is in the public service — especially in the traffic law enforcement and management structures.

Chuwe hasn’t been found guilty and the law must take its course, but the latest controversy does little to instill confidence in Aarto, in a country with a desperate road safety crisis.

With around 14,000 annual road deaths, SA is one of the world’s most dangerous countries to drive in and has about 26 road fatalities per 100,000 people, compared to just 9.3 per 100,000 in Europe.

There are already sufficient laws to stem road deaths, it’s enforcing them effectively that has always been an issue.

Aarto is unlikely to have much effect if the net doesn’t spread to all aspects of unsafe driving, instead of focusing, as traffic law enforcement currently does, mainly on hidden speed traps which bring in a lot of money for traffic departments.