Aarto amendments questioned

This picture, taken on Strand Road, was posted on the Traffic Fines Know Your Rights page on Thursday March 3 2016 with the question, "Is it legal to hide yourself like this?"

A draft law that proposes penalising traffic offenders with demerits could spawn corruption and plunge municipalities into debt, a public meeting in Bellville heard last week.

While some changes have been made to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) amendment bill, it was clear at the meeting that there are still fears about just how exactly the rubber will hit the road.

The meeting at the Bellville civic centre, on Thursday February 15, was chaired by the provincial legislature’s standing committee on transport and public works.

It is one of five meetings being held in the province where the Road Traffic Infringement Agency will discuss changes to the amendment bill with the public.

The agency’s Kwazi Ngcoba conceded problems had dogged the pilot roll-out of Aarto in Johannesburg and Tshwane, hence the need for the amendments.

Aarto has been many years in the making and will introduce a demerit points system which could see the driver’s licences of repeat offenders suspended or revoked.

The changes include: the removal of Section 4 of the bill, which deals with the issuing of a warrant of arrest against an infringer who fails to comply with an infringement order; the use of an appeals tribunal instead of courts to contest infringement notices and having drivers go through “rehabilitation” instead of having their licence suspended if they go over the 12 demerit points.

Mr Ngcoba said that under the original bill officers with a warrant could take moveable property from drivers and report them to a credit bureau.

However, he said, the country was not ready for that due to the socio-economic circumstances of many South Africans and the agency had removed the clause.

Standing committee chairman, Nceba Hinana, said a licence meant an income for many in the province and essentially brought “food” to the table. Aarto would be aiding poverty, if drivers’ licences were suspended, he said.

As part of the amendments, clause 15 of the bill will provide for the establishment of an appeals tribunal.

Mr Ngcoba said Aarto would make traffic violations a civil, instead of a criminal, matter to ease the burden on the courts. So drivers would not get criminal records for traffic offences.

Standing committee member, Masizole Mnqasela, questioned how exactly the tribunal would work as there were only plans for one tribunal in Pretoria, but at least one would be needed in each district.

Also, he warned that municipalities could end up in debt because traffic fines would go into a fund managed by the agency instead of their coffers.

“Why do we have to change the system and way of paying now? Why do funds have to go to the agency and then distributed to municipalities afterwards?” he asked.

Northern News reported on the issue in 2016, when JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said Aarto would threaten the City’s ability to collect traffic-fine revenue (“Fury as council clamps down on fine dodgers,” Northern News, March 10 2016).

At the time, the City had signed an agreement with the sheriffs of the court to execute warrants of arrest for traffic-fine dodgers, which critics called a last-ditch effort by the City to fill its purse before Aarto was made law.

“In its current format, Aarto is a complete failure,” Mr Smith said at the time.

“The fine-repayment system has all but collapsed in the pilot cities, and there is very little, if any, accountability for motorists. In fact, Cape Town has achieved better results (increased fine-payment rate and lower fatalities) by using the traditional approach.”

At last week’s meeting, a member of the public said the new law would be vulnerable to corruption as the salaries of the agency’s staff would technically be paid by traffic fines.

“While I agree with the demerit system to bring about law and order on our roads, I can’t understand why funds will be diverted in this new way,” he said.

There were too many flaws in the bill and no real plan for how it would work, he argued.

CliveHillagreed,saying national government should fund the agency.

“We want to be law-abiding citizens but the way the system will be funded can give way to corruption,” he said.

Abie Booysen, from the South African Bus Operators’ Association, questioned the practicality of the “rehab” concept, saying this would hurt small bus and mini van operators as their drivers would be out of commission for up to two weeks.

Other members of the public wanted to know how exactly the rehab would work, if there were any costs involved, how practical it would be and the amount of times drivers would be able to go to rehab. All questions which Mr Ngcoba appeared unable to answer.

Members of the public, organisations and stakeholders have until Friday March 30 to make written submissions on the amendment bill to committee coordinator Shareen Niekerk, 4th Floor, Provincial Legislature Building, 7 Wale Street, Cape Town, by no later than noon.