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Controversial Aarto demerit system hit by further delays

The Aarto law has been on the drawing board since 1998.
The Aarto law has been on the drawing board since 1998.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Errant motorists do not have to worry yet about being issued with demerit points on their driving licences as the Aarto system has been delayed once again.

The phase 2 rollout of the controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act, originally passed into law in 1998, was to have commenced on February 1, but it’s been deferred to a future date, which will be gazetted, according to the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA).

It is the latest speed bump in the government’s plan to replace the existing criminal system with an administrative one, in which drivers will lose points for offences and face suspension or cancellation of their licences if they lose too many, in addition to any fine.

The government has been advocating for the implementation of the demerit system for more than two decades. It says the system will improve road safety and reduce road carnage in South Africa, which has one of the highest road death tolls in the world.

Until now, traffic fines have been processed through the Criminal Procedure Act, which regards violations of traffic laws as criminal. The Aarto Act treats traffic violations as infringements that are dealt with administratively.

The latest delay is because the agency and the department of transport are finalising issues that would have to be included in the proclamation of the Aarto Amendment Act, which is necessary for the implementation of this phase, says RTIA spokesperson Monde Mkalipi.

“The RTIA had expected that all the activities in relation to the finalisation of the proclamation notice would be finalised by the downtime period of December 2023. Unfortunately, some of those activities had external dependencies, which could not be finalised during the downtime of December,” he said.

Issues that remain unresolved include appointing a tribunal to manage appeals. 

In a staggered rollout, phase 2 will also include the introduction of Aarto in the 69 municipalities across the country. Phase 3 will culminate in the phasing in of Aarto in the remaining 144 jurisdictions, and phase 4 is the introduction of the points demerit system and the rehabilitation programme.

In July 2023 the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the government’s plan to introduce a demerit system for traffic offenders, overturning an earlier high court ruling that had declared Aarto to be unconstitutional and invalid. The challenge was brought by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

Outa expressed disappointment with the Constitutional Court judgment, saying the new system would not improve road safety, but rather would impose undue burdens on motorists, especially those who rely on driving for their livelihoods.

The AA is another strong critic of Aarto, saying the legislation was geared towards revenue collection instead of promoting safer roads. The association says Aarto has done nothing to remedy South Africa's shocking road death rate after being piloted in Johannesburg and Tshwane for more than 12 years.


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