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With the increase in road accidents and fatalities, the Department of Transport saw a need to improve road safety and identify habitual traffic offenders. The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Amendment Bill will introduce stricter measures to improve safety. The aim of the Act is said to strengthen compliance with road traffic laws and facilitate the payment of traffic fines. It is certainly a step in the right direction and any road user will agree that any attempt to improve road safety in South Africa will be welcomed.
The introduction of these amendments however, received great criticism from the public, some provinces and some organisations such as Justice Project South Africa. Are these amendments really the answer?
The implementation of the amendments has been dragging on for many years now and has recently been passed by Parliament and sent to the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, for assent.
The amendment’s main aim is to introduce a demerit system. Road traffic offenders will receive demerit points against their licences, they may have a maximum of 12 demerit points. If they exceed 12 demerit points, their driving licence will be suspended for a period of three months. If the motorist’s licence is suspended twice, the motorist will be considered as a “habitual offender” and referred for rehabilitation.
These demerit points are assigned when a violator pays a traffic fine, or, when a he is served with a Notice and does not act in accordance with same. The first assignment will be done by admission whilst the second will be done by default.
The amendment also seeks to introduce a new form of acceptable service of notices, notifying motorist of the alleged infringement. The amendments include that service (or notifications) may be done by way of SMS or even by way of Social Media. Could this be considered as sufficient notice? Especially since a person may be assigned demerit points if he does not act in accordance with the Notice. Furthermore, and even more concerning is that the amendment will make it very difficult for accused traffic violators to challenge the alleged violation.
The amendment makes it lengthy and costly to challenge an alleged offence. This will severely affect any alleged perpetrator’s rights to be tried. Additional procedures are introduced when challenging an alleged infringement and fines are payable when the objection fails. The first step in challenging an alleged infringement is to write to an appointed Authority. However, this Authority is state owned. One can then already question the objectiveness of the Authority. Secondly, if the objection fails, a fine is payable to the Authority and then one needs to apply to a Tribunal for decision. However, this Tribunal receives the majority of its funding from traffic fines and what is more, another fee is payable before the Tribunal will even consider the objection.
Is this promoting access to Justice when one is expected to pay a fee before your side will be heard? Nowhere in South Africa should one be expected to fork out money before you are allowed to state your case. The Justice Project South Africa was simply ignored when it challenged the constitutionality of these amendments.
As mentioned above, the demerits may also be assigned to a person by default. Does this not go solely against the principle of being innocent until proven guilty? This amendment will expect alleged infringers to be considered as guilty until they have proven themselves as not-guilty. This point raises another red flag as to the constitutionality of the amendments. Further on this point is that the when motorist are successful in challenging an alleged infringement due to an incorrect procedure being followed when notice was given, the Authority will be allowed to re-issue and give another notice.
The SABC News interviewed drivers on these amendments and the main issue they had was that the licence holder and the driver of the motor vehicle registered to another licence holder might not be the same person. An employee may for example commit an infringement; whist the demerit point will be assigned to the registered owner, the employer. However, in this case the amendment allows for the employer to nominate a driver within 32 days. If no nomination is received, the owner will be deemed “guilty” and demerits will be assigned to his licence.
Considering the above amongst various other red flags, would you say that the true purpose of these amendments is to improve road safety, or is it rather an avenue used in order to generate revenue?