On Friday 3 April 2020, the Minister of Transport published his intention to introduce the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2020 to Parliament during its 2020 sittings, in the separate Government Gazette number 43201.
This comes after Cabinet announced the proposed introduction of the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2019 to Parliament in a media statement dated 12 March 2020, shortly before the national sate of disaster came into effect.
Since the commencement of the lockdown, a flood of directions have been published in the Government Gazette, with numerous new and overriding directions being issued on a daily basis, while government decrees new provisions to address the COVID-19 pandemic, in the complete absence of normal democratic processes which are largely suspended during a national sate of disaster.
Although its publication is a democratically mandated requirement, its timing appears to be an attempt to fly the said referral to Parliament under the radar while constantly evolving COVID-19 legislation causes considerable distraction from normal legislative processes.
The National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2015 was originally published for public comment in Government Gazette 37249 of 28 January 2015, with a closing date for inputs of 28 February 2015. Although numerous draft amendments to the National Road Traffic Regulations which rely on the passing of the Bill into law have been published for comment since then, no amendments to the Bill have been published since 2015.
Despite numerous efforts to obtain a copy of the 2019 and/or 2020 version of the Bill, Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) has been unable to do so. On Friday 4 April, JPSA again wrote to senior officials at the Department of Transport to request a copy of the latest Bill.
Owing to the absence of an updated Bill, JPSA is unable to comment on what is contained in the 2020 version at this stage, beyond citing the long list of provisions stated in the objects of the Bill recorded in the latest Government Gazette, announcing its introduction to Parliament.
These provisions include numerous provisions applicable to number plates, microdots, the regulation of driving schools and the removal of the permissible breath and blood alcohol limit for the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol. The latter has been on the cards since the publication of the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill 2012 (see Government Gazette 35528 of 18 July 2012).
Prior to the lockdown, Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula has repeatedly stated that the zero-alcohol “limit” is contained in the AARTO Amendment Act, signed by the President on 19 August 2019 and which Mbalula claims will come into effect nationally on 1 June. To date, the commencement of the AARTO Amendment Act has not been proclaimed by the President and Mbalula is not empowered to proclaim its commencement.
Whether it comes into force on 1 June or not, alcohol levels while driving are not provided for in the AARTO Amendment Act.
If the zero-alcohol level is to take effect from 1 June, this means the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2020 will have to be fast-tracked through Parliament when Parliament resumes its normal operations.
To achieve the 1 June implementation date, the usual democratic processes of passing the 2020 Bill through the National Assembly, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Transport, the National Council of Provinces, further public participation, back to the National Assembly and then onto the President to assent to it, sign it into law and proclaim its commencement in less than two months will undoubtedly have to be sacrificed. Whether this will pass constitutional muster is debatable.
This is more especially so considering that no-one except possibly a few elite politicians and bureaucrats appear to know what is contained in the 2020 Bill.
The objects quoted in last Friday’s Government Gazette are far from everything contemplated in the 2015 Bill. Among the other previously proposed provisions are the introduction of a “graduated driving licence system”, known as a “provisional driving license” which will see newly qualified drivers being subjected to stringent limitations for a period after passing their practical driving licence test.
Also contained in proposed regulations that followed the 2015 Bill, is the proposal to retest all current holders of driving licences every five years when they are compelled to renew their driving licence cards. The feasibility of this proposal has virtually been destroyed by the shambles created by the Gauteng pilot implementation of the online driving licence test and driving licence card renewal booking system implemented in 2019, even if the yet to be determined retesting criteria are clarified.
Only those who have followed the developments of the numerous draft legislative provisions since the Bill was first published for public comment in July 2012 will be able to make head or tail of what the enactment of the 2020 version of the Bill may mean. However, in the absence of the wording of the 2020 version, together with any amendments to the draft regulations, even those who have followed their progress are effectively in the dark.
JPSA will do its best to keep the media and the public updated on what lies ahead but can only do so if the Department of Transport is transparent.
Announcement of the introduction of the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2020 to Parliament in Government Gazette number 43201 of 3 April 2020
National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2015 in Government Gazette 37249 of 28 January 2015
National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2012 in Government Gazette 35528 of 18 July 2012