Drivers and owners of heavy vehicles are the only ones currently at risk of losing their licences over e-toll fines should the current iteration of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Bill become law.
The Road Traffic Infringement Agency, responsible for administering the Act, which has thus far only been rolled out in Johannesburg, yesterday said, despite media reports to the contrary, they never planned to assign demerits to drivers for failing to pay electronic tolls.
RTIA CEO Thabo Tsholetsane said “it was never the intention of the government to assign any demerit points to an infringement arising from non-compliance with the sign that directs that toll fees must be paid”.
“The draft Aarto regulations published in the Government Gazette No. 39482 of December 7, 2015, on page 8, clearly shows that the failure to comply with the said signs does not carry any demerit points.”
Tsholetsane also emphasised that Aarto would not criminalise non-payment of e-tolls directly, but rather deal with adherence to road signs, which instruct drivers to pay tolls.
But, despite this denial and the semantic quibble, the Act does in fact seek to penalise a very specific group of vehicles.
Under Schedule 3 of the current Act, there are in fact demerits applicable to the specific infringement, for any vehicle which requires an operator’s permit. These include trucks, buses, delivery vehicles and any vehicle meant to transport more than 12 people at a time.
The Bill also seeks to remove the legal requirement that infringement notices must be delivered by registered mail, and that each notice be individually served.
Also, owners of multiple vehicles have only 32 days from the date of an infringement, to nominate a driver responsible for paying a fine. Failure to do so would mean the accrued fines, and demerit points, all automatically get assigned to his/her own drivers’ licence.
The effect on those not using tolled roads
The new Aarto Bill aims to deal with traffic infringements administratively, and remove them from the Criminal Justice domain.
It does, however, give the RTIA significant powers to deal with road users who disobey the rules of the road.
The passing of the Bill would see the establishment of a tribunal, appointed by the president, which will handle disputes of fines and demerits.
RTIA CEO Thabo Tsholetsane said the tribunal will ensure their administrative processes are in line with the constitution, and they will act independent of the RTIA. In the case of drivers lodging a dispute, the tribunal would replace the lower traffic courts, and according to Tsholetsane, “the members of the tribunal will not necessarily summon motorists to appear before it”.
“Decisions will be made based on the documentary evidence of the disputed infringement, the reasons for unsuccessful representation by the RTIA and the reasons provided by the motorist when a representation was submitted. All these documents would be submitted to the tribunal for a review.”
According to Howard Dembovsky, national chairperson of Justice Project South Africa, the entire Bill is simply a moneymaking racket, meant to fleece motorists. He said there is enough power within the current legislation to ensure compliance with the rules of the road.
“They say this is meant to remove the burden from the court. But how will a tribunal of nine people do the work of more than 700 courts?” he asked.
Should the tribunal rule against an applicant, their only recourse would be the high court, which places justice out of the reach of most citizens.
“No one is going to spend large sums of money to approach the high court, in order to get out of a R500 fine. My gut tells me they’re trying to make it as difficult as possible to contest a fine.”