South Africa’s new driving laws are supposed to come into effect this week – but there are problems

The Department of Transport has committed to the phased rollout of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) from Thursday (1 July), but there is a lack of clarity around the new system and exactly what will be implemented.

The Aarto will penalise drivers and fleet operators who are guilty of traffic offences or infringements by imposing demerit points that could lead to the suspension or cancellation of licences, professional driving permits or operator cards.

It will also encourage the payment of fines and reduce the burden on South African courts, by removing the initial option to elect to appear in court.

The wide-reaching nature of the rules and demerit system will fundamentally change driving in South Africa, with concerns that there are no details around the system just two days out from its supposed launch.

While transport minister Fikile Mbalula has previously committed to a July start date, as of Tuesday morning (29 June) no gazette or announcement has been published by his department or other transport authorities regarding the implementation of the new rules.

In response to queries, a spokesperson from the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) said that preparations for the Aarto are still underway and that a number of issues are still being considered by the relevant authorities.

An announcement would be made either on the day or close to it – but it was not possible to provide further details at this time, he said.

Not happy 

Civil society and motoring groups are not happy about the lack of clarity and say that the new rules will almost certainly fail.

Outa said that the rollout has not been properly planned, there is a pending legal challenge against the system due in court in October, and the agency charged with implementation has refused to provide any information on readiness.

The group noted that the system also does not have an official start date – despite statements made by the government.

“The legislation which sets up the driver’s licence demerit system has not yet had an official start date gazetted.

“This means if it is expected to start on 1 July 2021 as Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula has previously claimed, it will be a last-minute authorisation,” it said.

“Last-minute is not the way to start such a complicated and bureaucratic process, particularly as this relies heavily on failed systems like municipalities.”

The group added that the planned demerit system was set up in the Aarto, but that section of the Act was never rolled out, with no clarity as to when this will be introduced.

No communication

Similar concerns have been raised by the Automobile Association (AA), which says too many questions remain unanswered.

The association said among the issues which have not been clarified is whether or not motorists will, from 1 July, be receiving Aarto infringement notices, or if they’ll still be receiving the standard fines as is the case currently.

The AA noted that the last public pronouncement on Aarto was on 19 May 2021 when the director-general of the Department of Transport, Alec Moemi, briefed the National Council of Province’s Select Committee on Transport, Public Service and Administration, Public Works and Infrastructure about the Department of Transport’s Annual Performance Plan.

During that briefing, Moemi said phase one of Aarto would commence on 1 July. There will be five phases in total, he said.

According to the DG, phase one entails “setting up the registry and all requirements, ultimately working towards the introduction of a demerit system”.

However, the AA is it remains unclear what this exactly means, or if this means Aarto will be implemented come 1 July at all.

“Communication on the roll-out of Aarto appears to be happening in the media with the Department of Transport not speaking on the matter at all,” the association said.

“All of this is creating huge confusion among motorists throughout the country who are unsure if the legislation is or is not coming into force next month.”

Also of concern is that no timeframes have been listed for the completion of phase one, what the other phases of the roll-out entail, and what timeframes have been set for their initiation and completion, it said.

“Within this context motorists are being told that Aarto will be ‘implemented’ on 1 July, with few people, if any, any wiser as to precisely what’s going to happen. Not only is this unfair on motorists, but it again casts doubt over the RTIA’s ability to effectively implement the system once it actually becomes law,” the AA said.

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