National rollout of AARTO

JOHANNESBURG – Following the questions posed by News24 and the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa regarding the national rollout of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act, 46 of 1998, justice Project South Africa (JPSA) also wishes to weigh in on the subject.

JPSA has supported the idea of the implementation of a points-demerit system in South Africa from the onset and is also highly supportive of the decriminalisation of minor road traffic infringements, as well as the properly defined procedures and timeframes which the AARTO Act introduces.

We have noted that, subsequent to the Deputy Minister of Transport announcing last year that the AARTO Act would be rolled out nationally from 1 April 2016, this has not happened and the Minister of Transport has, in her budget speech before Parliament on 10 May 2016, appealed to the Portfolio Committee to expedite the processing of AARTO Amendment Bill, 2015 before Parliament.

It is not clear to us what makes the promulgation of the AARTO Amendment Bill, 2015 essential to the national rollout of AARTO while the current version of the Act is regarded to be good enough for the Cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane.

While IT systems play a significant role in the AARTO system, practically ALL of the difficulties which have been experienced with respect to the so-called “pilot implementation” of the AARTO Act in the Cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane since it was promulgated to be in force from 1 July 2008 in Tshwane and 1 November 2008 in Johannesburg; have arisen out of ineptitude and/or unwillingness of the authorities to abide by the provisions of the Act.

No “pilot” of anything should have taken eight years to still not find a way to a national rollout and the endless false starts which have typified this implementation have not assisted anyone. The AARTO Act “pilot” was announced as coming to an end in 2009, and every year since then and the national rollout of the Act and the points-demerit system has also been announced each and every year since then.

The differences between the Criminal Procedure Act and the AARTO Act are marked and the significant confusion amongst motorists has been directly caused by the simultaneous existence of two completely different sets of procedures for prosecuting road traffic infringements in South Africa.

While it is arguable to what extent the introduction of a points-demerit system will have on altering the driving behaviour of a large proportion of South African motorists, there can be no doubt that not having one will have no effect whatsoever. Road safety is a holistic science and as such, requires a number of components to be utilised. A points-demerit system can never be viewed as a “silver bullet” to South Africa’s appalling road safety record, but that does not mean that one should not be implemented as a matter of urgency.

The centralisation of all “fines” issued by traffic authorities is also a significantly useful tool to everyone concerned, including the public and authorities. As things stand, members of the public can query their AARTO infringement notice/s status on the aarto.gov.za website or by making contact with the RTIA, regardless of whether that infringement notice was issued by the JMPD, the TMPD, the Gauteng Traffic Police or the National Traffic Police – within the confines of the Cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane.

Conversely, they have to either make contact with traffic authorities through whose jurisdictions they have passed or consult various privately run websites in order to establish whether they have “traffic fines” anywhere else in the country and from any of well over 200 traffic issuing authorities in South Africa, most of which do not contract their traffic fines databases out to these private websites.

The net result is that many motorists discover that they have had a warrant of arrest issued against their particulars if they happen to stray back into such a jurisdiction and are stopped in a roadblock.

While detractors of JPSA deliberately choose to misinterpret our stance on the fact that law enforcement agencies are legally obliged to comply with provisions of legislation which apply to them as being “anti-law enforcement”, nothing could be further from the truth.

Justice Louis Brandies (US Supreme Court Judge 1856-1941) said: “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. … Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for the law: it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy”.

Sadly, few of our friends in government and the various traffic law enforcement agencies have any regard for what Justice Brandies said.

JPSA is and remains committed to the national rollout of a points-demerit system for driving licenses and a better procedural way of enforcing road traffic laws which is clearly understood and complied with by all involved. The AARTO Act is intended to achieve these objectives.

We do however find ourselves having to agree with our counterparts in the AA and elsewhere in civil society in calling for the Department of Transport “to take significant steps to ensure [that] the system is implemented, or concede to the public that it probably will never materialise”, except in the Cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane, which appear to be viewed as a prime picking ground for traffic fines since they generate more than 6 million traffic fines a year.

Introduction of eRegistered Mail may be a good thing – for some

JOHANNESBURG – Justice Project South Africa has noted the launch of the new “eRegistered mail” service on offer by the South African Post Office and cautiously welcomes this technological advancement, more especially insofar as it applies to the prescripts AARTO Act which definitively require service by registered mail.

Whilst our stance may come as a huge surprise to some, we are of the view that this service will greatly benefit those individuals and organisations who wish to and have repeatedly tried to comply with the provisions of the AARTO Act. In particular, businesses of all sizes will finally be able to exercise their option to nominate the driver within the prescribed 32 days from service of an AARTO infringement notice.

There is also a huge advantage to motorists who, instead of repeatedly being caught “speeding” on a particular road where speed limits have often been arbitrarily reduced without any notice would receive notification within a significantly shorter period – instead of building up scores of speeding fines before becoming aware that they were even transgressing.

eRegistered mail may therefore be of benefit to both, law enforcement agencies and some errant motorists, fleet operators, etc. who have access to the internet and email and choose to opt-in on this service. It will not however replace “normal” registered mail for those who don’t.

Since the inception of the AARTO Act in the Cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane, issuing authorities have used a service from the SAPO called “secure mail” to post infringement notices to alleged infringers. This service is not registered mail as is prescribed by the AARTO Act and does not operate in the same manner as regular registered mail, or the new eRegistered mail service.

In March 2016, JPSA lodged a notice of motion in the Pretoria High Court to address the unlawful service of AARTO infringement notices, courtesy letters and enforcement orders. We have now received notices of intention to oppose our application from five of the seven respondents in that matter and look forward to hearing the creative explanations they wish to fabricate to justify their unlawful behaviour.

The introduction of eRegistered mail in no way alters the fact that the requirements for service by registered mail contained in the AARTO Act have been violated by all concerned.

It is also interesting to note that the national rollout of the AARTO Act, which has endured multiple and repeated “false starts” over the nearly eight years it has been in operation in Johannesburg and Tshwane and was promised to be rolled out nationally “from 1 April 2016”; has still not happened.

In her budget speech before Parliament on 10 May 2016, the Minister of Transport appealed to the Portfolio Committee to expedite the processing of AARTO Amendment Bill, 2015 before Parliament.

It is not clear to us what makes the promulgation of the AARTO Amendment Bill, 2015 essential to the national rollout of AARTO while the current version of the Act is regarded to be good enough to impose on motorists who transgress in the Cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane.

This is more especially so in light of the launch of the eRegistered mail service by the SAPO since no amendments to the AARTO Act are required in order for the issuing authorities and the RTIA to make use of this service and it is therefore our view that the Department of Transport and its RTIA are merely seeking to further delay the national rollout for reasons best known to them and by using unjustifiable excuses to further delay, amongst other things, the implementation of the points-demerit system.

The national rollout of the AARTO Act would remove the current confusion and arguably, unconstitutional dual sets of procedures, requirements and consequences that exist with the simultaneous existence of the AARTO Act in just two jurisdictions, while the draconian, yet somewhat vague provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act apply everywhere else insofar as the Criminal Procedure Act applies to road traffic infringements.

The consideration of “increasing the revenue of the issuing authorities and the Agency due to the provision of electronic methods of service” should not be a consideration since traffic law enforcement should be about effectively tackling the lawlessness and associated, unacceptably high level of injuries and deaths which exists on South Africa’s roads.

Unfortunately, it is apparent that neither, the Department of Transport and its Agency, the RTIA, nor traffic law enforcement agencies have as yet realised this and so, continue to attempt to find ways to maximise their profits, instead of putting the lives of South Africans first. This is a crying shame, to say the least.

Easter road death ‘decline’ no cause for celebration - JPSA

JOHANNESBURG – While it is encouraging to note that this year’s Easter road death toll is down on 2015, it is important to note the Minister of Transport’s opening statements made with respect to the somewhat unique situation that prevailed this year.

The fact that last week only comprised of three days with Human Rights Day falling on the 21st and Good Friday falling on the 25th of this month, coupled with the school holidays coinciding with these public holidays would naturally mean that traffic concentrations would have been significantly lower than they would ordinarily be over an Easter long-weekend.

In addition, the fact that this Easter fell before the month-end on which many people receive their salaries would have also have had an influence.

Without detracting from the efforts made by dedicated law enforcement officials who were out in force over the Easter period, we remind the public that the Human Rights Day long-weekend saw terrible carnage on our roads.

A seeming 46% reduction in road fatalities from 286 last year to 156 this Easter is no cause for celebration and it is most certainly no reason for motorists to let their guard down. Defensive driving is key to assuring one’s own and family’s safety on our roads.

JPSA also acknowledges the efforts of the RTMC’s anti-corruption unit in arresting two corrupt traffic officers over the Easter weekend. Eradicating corruption in both, law enforcement and vehicle and driver testing stations must be regarded as a priority since without a concerted effort in tackling corruption – every other road safety strategy will achieve very little.

The arrest of 913 motorists for driving under the influence of alcohol and 502 for excessive speeding is cause for concern, particularly in light of the fact that convictions for DUI offences are and remain extremely low. It is simply astounding that these people seem to have little or no regard for their own self-preservation, let alone the lives and wellbeing of other road users. The sooner that our authorities and government laboratories get their acts together and start convicting those charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (or drugs), the sooner a message will be sent that it is not alright to drive drunk.

The notion of denying persons charged with these crimes bail is simply outrageous and is going to open up the floodgates for civil damages claims when people are acquitted or charges are withdrawn. JPSA encourages the Minister to drop the ridiculous notion of imposing punishment on persons charged with crimes ahead of their conviction and implores her to pay attention to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa she has sworn to uphold.