Hysteria over the potential loss of drivers’ licences due to non-payment of e-tolls is somewhat misplaced, and South Africans should be much more concerned about other problematic aspects of the controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Amendment Bill.
According to Howard Dembovsky, national chairperson of Justice Project South Africa, news reports that motorists who refuse to pay for electronic tolls would be subject to demerits on their drivers’ licences, and suspension of their licences, are “somewhat of a red herring”.
“The real impact of the Aarto Amendment Bill with respect to e-tolls does not lie in whether a person’s driving licence may or may not be suspended, but actually lies in the amendment which allows the so-called ‘service’ of infringement notices by ‘electronic service’,” Dembovsky told The Citizen.
This, in reference to the provision within the Bill, would allow issuing authorities like Sanral to serve infringement notices to defaulters via e-mail, WhatsApp or even SMS.
The RTIA hope to combine several infringements into a single notice, rather than sending a notice for every specific infringement. What’s more, the Amendment Bill also aims to remove the right of a motorist to be considered innocent of an infringement, before this being proven in court.
The service of infringement notices via electronic means, instead of the required registered mail, would save issuing authorities and the RTIA millions of rand.
However, it will also place the onus on vehicle drivers and owners to prove that the electronic transfer did not take place, rather than the issuing authority or RTIA having to prove that it did.
The combination of multiple infringements into a single infringement notice could mean that drivers may rack up bills of tens of thousands of rand, before they even get served with an infringement notice.
“The driver of a light motor vehicle or motorcycle who passes three gantries in each direction on weekdays would incur cumulative fines of somewhere in the order of R30 000 before the first infringement notice was served. The driver of a motor vehicle which requires an operator card would be in for R60 000 worth of fines,” said Dembovsky.
The second, and perhaps most worrying amendment to the Bill, would remove a driver’s right to choose to contest his fines in a lower court.
The Aarto Amendment Bill removes this right, and essentially declares that drivers accused of an infringement are guilty. Those hoping to contest an alleged infringement would have to make written representation to the RTIA, and if that is unsuccessful, lodge an appeal to the RTIA’s proposed new tribunal.
Dembovsky believes this provision, in the context of e-tolling, is an attempt by the department of transport and Sanral to ensure the legality of the e-toll system doesn’t come under legal scrutiny.
“The very last thing Sanral wants to see is a person standing trial in a criminal court for failing to pay e-tolls, no matter how that charge is worded, because that would mean that the legality of e-tolling would come under scrutiny, and that would be disastrous for Sanral.”
Drivers of heavy vehicles, and other vehicles requiring the driver to hold a professional driving permit, face suspension of driving licences for refusing to pay e-tolls.
According to Thabo Tsholetsane, the COO of the RTIA, the fines would be the result of a failure to adhere to road signs “that directs motorists to pay tolling fees”, instead of refusal to pay for tolling.
Some infringements, and what they will cost you:
- Driving an unregistered vehicle: R500 and 1 demerit
- Driving a vehicle without a licence plate: R500 and 1 demerit
- Driving without a licence: R1 250 and 4 demerits
- Driving while intoxicated: Fine determined by court, and 6 demerit points.
- Skipping a stop sign: R500 and 1 demerit point
- Overtaking across a barrier line: R500 and 1 demerit point
- Overloading a vehicle: R1 500 and 5 demerit points
- Various fines apply for speeding offences, based on how much the speed limit is exceeded.