'It is an abomination': Driver demerit system revs up Gauteng

19 March 2018 - 08:53 By Penwell Dlamini
A police officer writing a traffic fine. File photo.
A police officer writing a traffic fine. File photo.
Image: Times LIVE

Another legal battle could be on the cards between civil society and the department of transport in Gauteng.

This time it is not about the controversial e-tolling system but rather a law that aims to change the way traffic fines are dealt with by government‚ as suggested by the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Amendment Bill (Aarto).

The provincial portfolio committee on transport has begun holding public consultations on the bill‚ which was first published in 2013. Parliament published it in November 2015.

While the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) says the bill will go a long way towards rehabilitating traffic offenders‚ Howard Dembovsky‚ chairperson of the Justice Project SA‚ described it as an “abomination” that has more to do with making money than road safety.

The fundamental change introduced by the bill is that it removes some road traffic violations from the Criminal Procedure Act‚ opening the way for an administrative route to deal with certain violations.

“In terms of what is currently being used by other municipalities‚ you are dealing with traffic violations under the Criminal Procedure Act‚” said Japh Chuwe‚ CEO of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA).

“Aarto takes away the criminality of certain traffic violations. The more serious ones will still be dealt with under the Criminal Procedure Act. These are such as people that are driving while being drunk‚ excessive speeding … But most of the traffic infringements‚ we don’t want to deal with them under the Criminal Procedures Act.

“If you pay a traffic fine under the Criminal Procedure Act‚ it means‚ number one‚ you accept you are guilty. If you accept that you are guilty‚ it is under the Criminal Procedure Act that you accept that your behaviour was criminal. You [may] find yourself in a position where you attract a criminal record. Later on in life it makes it difficult for your own economic activity. By taking infringements out of the Criminal Procedure Act‚ it is one of the benefits that you will not attract a criminal record when you acknowledge that you were wrong.

“It also gives us the opportunity of addressing one’s behaviour in order to change it. Aarto is not just a punishment tool. It is about rehabilitating people‚ changing behaviour‚ attitude and mindset. It is about reminding them of their responsibility – what they need to do to protect their own lives and other road users.”

Dembovsky‚ however‚ says the bill is flawed.

“It is an abomination. It has nothing to do with road safety. It has everything to do with collecting and generating revenue… If the department of transport wanted to implement a point demerit system for driving licences‚ all it had to do was write a few regulations into the National Road Traffic Act.

"That it could have done decades ago… In fact‚ what the department has done‚ it has come along and written a whole complicated Act to exclude the courts from the process of judging whether a person is guilty or not‚ and put you as a motorist in a position where you don’t have a right to a fair trial‚” said Dembovsky.

It is an abomination. It has nothing to do with road safety. It has everything to do with collecting  revenue
Howard Dembovsky

“If you read the Act‚ you will realise that it is about money and nothing else‚” he said.

When Dembovsky was asked if he thought the bill would be a total failure like e-tolls‚ he replied: “I don’t think it will get as far as e-toll got.”

The bill:

• Allows motorists to know if there are any fines under their name.

• Allows for motorists to be served with a notice of infringement in person‚ by registered mail or electronically; and

• Gives motorists the right to appeal an infringement notice without going to court but using an appeals board set up for this purpose.

Infringements will carry a certain number of demerit points. As the motorist continues to receive infringement notices‚ points will accumulate. The licence is suspended after 12 points are accumulated. The suspension is three months for every one point above 12. Collecting 14 points‚ for example‚ would result in a suspension of six months. Points are reduced at the rate of one for every three months of driving without an infringement.

The National Assembly’s portfolio committee on transport published the bill three times‚ inviting comments from the public. Finally‚ it was debated by the National Assembly in September 2017 and approved. But because it has implications for provincial government‚ it had to be tabled in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) which in turn sent it to the provinces for further consultation.

Aarto has been piloted in Johannesburg and Tshwane since 2008.

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