The in’s and out’s of AARTO
Over the past few years, the media has had a field day whenever the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act, or AARTO, appears in the spotlight. But now we are told (again) that AARTO is to be launched in its totality next month. GAVIN MYERS profiles the basics of this new approach to traffic law enforcement and what it means for the transport and logistics industry.
There’s no denying that traffic law enforcement across South Africa is by and large questionable. Whether in terms of its inability to impact on the large number of road fatalities, prosecute lawlessness, or simply in terms of the relentless pursuit of revenue that is speed trapping, the current state of affairs is quite simply and obviously a dismal one. The focus is clearly (and to some extent by the authorities’ own admission) on speed trapping; which really leads to what is essentially the vicious cycle above, as it has no impact in terms of “visible policing” and immediately reprimanding drivers for unlawful behaviour. What’s that old saying … the best law enforcement is a cop in the rearview mirror? But I digress …
In essence, the implementation of AARTO is meant to remedy this. There have been many delays in the implementation of AARTO, but Minister of Transport S’bu Ndebele is adamant that it will be fully implemented (including the points-demerit system) nationally on 1 April 2011. AARTO was supposed to have been rolled out across the country by 31 December 2010, though sans the point-demerits. As you may have noticed, up to now fines have only shown an indication of the points drivers would have potentially incurred.
So, how then is AARTO supposed to work? Points, fines, penalties, forms, potentially losing one’s licence – it all sounds pretty overwhelming and a bit of an inconvenience. As with most things in life, the inconvenience only exists if you don’t follow the rules. Which, let’s be honest, South Africans generally have something of an aversion to when it comes to being on the roads. Simply put, if you don’t break the law, you can’t be inconvenienced by penalties and points and the eventuality of losing your licence. Not surprising why there has been an uproar from the taxi industry over AARTO!
Nevertheless, the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act, no 46 of 1998, was brought into being by parliament in 1998 with numerous amendments to the act having been made since then. Up to now, all road traffic infringements were administered under the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, but these now fall under the administration of AARTO as civil cases. According to FOCUS columnist Rob Handfield-Jones of driving.co.za, this in itself is a step forward as it should lessen the load on our courts. However, serious offences will still be prosecuted under the Criminal Procedure Act, which means you can still get arrested and receive a criminal record if convicted.
As is clear by now, the AARTO system imposes fines on motorists in conjunction with point-demerits. The fines are now standardised, so individual municipalities can no longer decide on penalties. Point-demerit systems have successfully been in operation in many countries around the world for many years. Let’s look at the point system first, as it is actually very simple and I feel it is probably of more consequence to those in the transport and logistics industry than the fines.
All drivers begin on zero points. All infringements and offences under AARTO carry a predetermined point penalty. Therefore, as a driver makes infringements points are incurred “on his licence”, until a maximum of 12 is reached. At 13 points the licence is suspended for three months. Bear in mind that every point over 12 is another three months. So for example, 17 points on your licence = five points over 12 = a 15 month suspension! If a licence is suspended three times it is cancelled and physically destroyed and the holder will have to redo his learner’s and driver’s tests. However, for every three months that no points are incurred, one point is deducted from the tally.
However, Howard Dembovsky, national chairman of the Justice Project South Africa (JPSA), is not convinced. “As physical enforcement is so rarely practiced in South Africa, those whose licences have been suspended will not be deterred from driving because the chances of them being caught will be remote,” he says.
The fines procedure is a little more complicated and can have a lifecycle of a few months. Should the driver receive a fine from a traffic officer at the scene of the offence (AARTO 01 or AARTO 02), eg for a moving violation, the driver’s particulars are recorded on the fine and they are obligated to sign for it. The AARTO lifecycle then comes into play when the AARTO 01 notice has been captured and an electronic infringement notice is generated. If it is issued after the fact (AARTO 03), eg a speeding fine, it needs to be delivered by registered mail within 40 days of the offence being committed. The AARTO lifecycle will then come into play at the point it is delivered, or 10 days after the date of postage, whichever occurs first. This means the lifecycle could start before the notice is received!
Once a fine has been received the first phase of the lifecycle begins. Within this first 32-day phase, the driver may pay his fine and qualify for a 50% discount – something most will be familiar with already (if this is done, points are applied immediately). Should the fine not be paid within this time a courtesy letter will be issued, the discount will fall away and a further 32 days will be allowed for full payment (including the delivery fee of the letter – R60 by registered mail or R100 if served in person – for which the accused is liable).
If still no payment is made after this second phase has elapsed, an enforcement order will be sent (again inclusive of the delivery fee) and at this stage, driving and vehicle licence renewals will be withheld and the points will automatically be applied. Should this final order be ignored, a warrant of execution will be served after 32 days, and once again you will be liable for these fees. After seven days the Sheriff of the Court will pay a visit to collect payment or seize assets.
This will result in you being blacklisted with the credit bureau, and the Sheriff will have the right to deface the licence discs and remove the number plates of all vehicles owned by you. Remember, if you cannot afford to pay the fine up front there is the option to pay it in instalments (you will however lose the 50% discount). Also, if the owner of a vehicle receives an AARTO 03 notification, but was not the driver at the point of the offence, that person must be nominated as the driver so that the owner does not incur the points. Failure to do so may result in a further infringement notice being issued against the owner.
Will it work?
While in theory the AARTO system has great merit, there is nothing to say that it will work in practise. In fact, the concerns that it won’t could probably make up two articles on their own. “We will not [be able to] make AARTO a functional, effective reality until someone, somewhere realises that an enforcement system, where speeding fines exceed 98% of the total notices issued, has not led to better road safety in the past and will not in the future. Especially when half of all drivers killed in crashes are under the influence and a mere 0.006% of traffic prosecutions are for drinking and driving,” says Handfield-Jones. Further to this, he notes that “government has completely dropped the ball” with regards to the process and infrastructure needed for AARTO to be implemented.
The JPSA, arguably one of the most outspoken voices when it comes to AARTO and traffic laws, also maintains that AARTO faces some serious potential problems (Dembovsky specifies 11 basic factors in detail, on both the side of the public and law enforcement). “We are not opposed to AARTO as it may originally have been intended, nor are we in any way opposed to legitimate law enforcement. But we are opposed to the greatly flawed thinking behind it and the huge abuse that has resulted from it. We are also greatly opposed to the significant amount of confusion that has arisen from the so-called ‘pilot phase’ ” he says.
“Truly corrective measures must be brought into play and things like ‘traffic schools’, effective community service, etc, must become part of the overall solution. Beating the living daylights out of offenders without showing them what the effective consequences of their behaviour to others can be is a waste of time and effort and only builds resentment, instead of changing behaviours,” continues Dembovsky.
We can only hope against hope that, despite all this criticism, the Department of Transport, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (within whose care AARTO falls) and the relevant traffic authorities throughout the country can make a success of AARTO. Because the best law enforcement is not a cop in a bush. Time will tell if these parties have realised this.
For the sake of clarity, and to allow a grasp of the basics of AARTO, I have only explored it from the point of view of the individual motorist. In a following edition of FOCUS, we will look at AARTO from the perspective of the business owner, and how it could affect his fleet.
• Under AARTO, you can no longer be arrested at roadblocks for outstanding AARTO fines.
• You may make a representation or request to be tried in court instead of admitting guilt.
• Doing more than 30km/h over the limit in an urban area and 40km/h over the limit in outside an urban area will result in arrest.
• The maximum fine in the AARTO charge book is R1 500. Maximum point penalty issued by a traffic officer is 5. A court may however impose 6 points and hefty fines.