The recent media hype surrounding e-tolls and the AARTO Amendment Bill is somewhat misleading and needs to be clarified.
While it is true to say that under the current AARTO Regulations, drivers of operator-class motor vehicles could have their driving licences suspended for failing to pay e-tolls, if the points-demerit system was in force now, this is not true with respect to drivers of around 91% of the registered self-propelled vehicles in South Africa.
Even though it has not been promulgated yet, a 7 December 2015 draft amendment to the AARTO Regulations indicated the intention of the Department of Transport to dispose of the single demerit-point applicable to charge code 3821 in Schedule 3 of the AARTO Regulations.
It is little more than a play on words to say that “not paying your e-tolls is not a traffic infringement” and “instead counts as disobeying a road sign”.
The descriptive wording of charge codes 3820 and 3821 is “Failed to comply with the directions conveyed by a road traffic sign by using a toll road without paying the toll charge”. Therefore the underlying infringement is driving on a toll road without paying the toll charge. Whether that toll charge is payable at an ordinary toll plaza or arises from passing under an e-toll gantry is irrelevant since the SANRAL Act, which is road traffic legislation, contemplates both means of toll collection and creates a road traffic offence for not complying.
SANRAL has failed to issue even a single infringement notice and prosecute even a single person for failing to pay e-tolls since the inception of e-tolling in 2013. The singular conviction, by plea agreement, of Dr Stoyan Stoychev in 2015, for number plate fraud and evading e-tolls in the process, does not alter this fact.
Perhaps part of the reason for this phenomenon is that serving infringement notices in person or by registered mail is a costly affair. The AARTO Amendment Bill seeks to introduce “electronic service” which will save issuing authorities and the RTIA astronomical amounts of money. The Bill also seeks to remove the right of an alleged infringer to elect to be tried in court and in so doing, to be afforded their constitutional right to a fair trial. As a result, issuing authorities, including but not limited to SANRAL, would never have to prove their allegations, if the Bill is signed into law.
JPSA maintains that, despite the AARTO Amendment Bill reportedly having been scrutinised and certified by the State Law Advisors, it will fail to pass constitutional and other legal muster if it is signed into law. The e-tolls issue is a separate, but interlinked issue and is yet to be resolved.