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.