Worry over traffic demerits

Eastern Cape motorists and business leaders have expressed concern about the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Bill (Aarto) – a contentious piece of proposed legislation that includes a demerit system for motorists.
Having been accepted by parliament’s transport portfolio committee last month, the bill, which is now before the National Assembly, could be signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The bill was introduced in the National Assembly in December 2015.
One of the most controversial aspects of the proposed legislation is the new demerit system, whereby points are accumulated for each traffic violation. Drivers start with a clean slate of zero, but if they accumulate 12 points, their licence will be suspended for three months.
Points are awarded according to the severity of the violation. Driving without a licence carries four demerit points, drunk driving six demerit points and driving with a cellphone in hand one demerit point.
Another hotly-debated amendment is that the option for drivers to elect to appear in court to challenge the fine or points has been removed.
A dedicated Road Traffic Infringement Authority (RTIA) has now been established.
If motorists believe there are reasonable grounds for having their ticket cancelled, they will need to submit a representation indicating why they should not be held liable for the penalty payable in terms of the infringement notice.
The RTIA will forward sworn statements to an independent representations officer for consideration.
If this officer feels the motorist was not in transgression of the law, the infringement notice will be cancelled and the motorist notified.
However, if they fail in their bid to have the ticket cancelled, they will not only have to pay the penalty in full, but also the fee for the representation plus the fee for the “courtesy” letter issued by the representations officer.
While the government says Aarto is being introduced to improve driving to reduce road accidents, some organisations say it is nothing more than an attempt to bring in additional revenue for the state.
Civic groups like the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and the Justice Project South Africa say some sections of the bill are unconstitutional.
“The scheme errs by removing the constitutional rights of a person’s ability to defend him/or herself when being wrongly accused of a traffic infringement,” said Outa’s Rudie Heyneke.
Transport minister Blade Nzimande contends that the “effective, efficient and streamlined” system would remove routine traffic offences from the “over-stretched” court system. But Eastern Cape motorists and the businesses community are sceptical about the move.
Andile Nontso, of the Eastern Cape Chamber of Business, believes a demerit system could help reduce the “carnage on our roads”, but he is worried about the policing aspect of the system.
“We are worried that it will be [traffic] officers who commit offences by victimising motorists and players in the taxi industry,” he said. “But we hope that the act will do and achieve what it is meant to achieve.”
Mane Mgudlwa, who drives for e-hailing service Taxify in East London, said the prospect of the bill being signed into law made him very nervous.
“As a professional driver, I have to obey the rules of the road, but I am also human and do make mistakes. I am in the car for more than eight hours a day,” he said.
“My problem [with the bill] is that it should be my right to challenge a fine in court if I think the traffic officer is wrong. I won’t be able to present my story if I think the fine is unfair.”
Border-Kei Chamber of Business chief executive Les Holbrook said the chamber was against the bill.
“It’s making the whole process unmanageable,” he added...

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