Aarto Act presumes guilt
Changes remove the right to a fair trial for law-abiding citizens and delinquent motorists alike
THE portfolio committee on transport of the KZN Legislature will on April 24 and 25 brief motorists and drivers on the Aarto Amendment Bill.
Aarto stands for “Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences” and the most contentious change in the amendments is that the act now presumes guilt and puts the onus on the registered vehicle owner to prove innocence.
Justice Project SA (JPSA) chair Howard Dembovsky said on the organisation’s website if the Aarto Amendment Bill is signed into law, motorists will be left virtually powerless to defend themselves.
Dembovsky is not against implementing the much-delayed act to make SA’s roads safer.
“Clearly delinquent drivers must be taken to task for their transgressions and suspending the driving licences of habitual offenders may assist in that regard.
“However, the more the Aarto Act is tampered with, the more it focuses on the disposal of what appear to be ‘bothersome provisions’ of law which stand in the way of the revenue generation process and the less it focuses on road safety.
“This travesty simply cannot go unchallenged,” Dembovsky said. He encouraged anyone who holds a driving licence, or who manages a fleet of vehicles, to participate in the public briefings now being held in provinces.
“This is the very last chance for motorists to do so and if they don’t their silence will be taken as tacit agreement to the Aarto Amendment Bill.
“Once it is signed into law, if a motorist incurs a traffic fine, they will have little other choice than to pay it. This will affect ‘law-abiding citizens’ and delinquent motorists alike, since all that needs happen is for a traffic fine to be issued against your, or your vehicle’s particulars.”
Warrant of execution
The one amendment praised by fleet operators is that the amended bill seeks to repeal the warrant of execution built into the current Aarto Act.
A warrant of execution empowers a sheriff to seize private property to the full value of the penalty and all fees, including the sheriff’s fees. It also instructs the sheriff to seize your driving licence and deface the licence disc on your vehicle and to disable your vehicle.
But fleet operators are against the amendment that allows the fine to be e-mailed, tweeted or texted, instead of served in person or by registered mail only.
Ten days after the digital message is sent, the act deems it legally served, whether the recipient read the infringement notice or not.
“Your ability to exercise your constitutional right to a fair trial by electing to be tried in court, is to be removed entirely.
“If a traffic cop issues an infringement notice to you, you are regarded as being guilty and immediately considered to be a debtor,” Dembovsky said.
Drivers or fleet operators who feel that they are not guilty must write to the Road Traffic Infringement Authority (RTIA), which is a a state-owned enterprise.
If the RTIA decrees the written representation unsuccessful, R200 is added to the penalty.
To appeal this, drivers or fleet operators will have to apply to the Aarto Tribunal to review the matter. This must be done within 30 days of the unsuccessful representation and must be accompanied by a fee set by the minister of Transport.
If your review at the tribunal fails, a fleet operator or very rich driver can approach the high court for review. The amendments include that an infringement notice on which the traffic officer had made a error, can be reissued if a driver or fleet operator’s written representation against the notice succeeded.
Drivers who fail to pay fines within the prescribed time frames, face an enforcement order, which will be issued three months after an infringement notice has been issued.
An enforcement order will block drivers from acquiring a licence disc, driving licence card or professional driving permit until the fine and other fees are in full, as well as deduct points from their driving licences.
Fleet operators have to name drivers of a company vehicle, or face having the infringements on the company’s vehicles applied against their driving licences.
e-Toll protesters, as well as many people who are getting fines from vehicles with cloned plates driving in Gauteng, should be especially concerned about a provision in the amendments that will leverage the Aarto act to enforce e-toll payments.
A fine for failing to pay the e-toll applicable to a particular e-toll gantry is R250 per gantry for light motor vehicles and R500 for operator class vehicles.
There are no demerit points applicable to a fine of R250, but there is one demerit point applicable to a fine of R500.
Passing three gantries in each direction to and from work each day in a light motor vehicle or motorcycle will add up to some 30 gantries in a five-day week, with accumulated fines of over R7 000. A truck using the same route will have to pay R15 000 fines, and the driver or proxy can have their driving licence suspended for 54 months at the end of that month, if they pay the infringement notices.
eToll protesters face incurring these fines and ensuing demerit points with no recourse to have the case tried in court.
How will this affect drivers
Apart from presuming guilt, Dembovsky is worried the amended act will turn the law’s focus from making safer drivers to just fining drivers to fund salaries at the RTIA, a state-owned enterprise that gets over 90% of its funds from traffic fines.
The Aarto Amendment Bill has been passed by the National Assembly in Parliament and is now before the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for final approval.
Unless citizens challenge the unconstitutional elements in the Aarto Amendment Bill, it will next head to the National Council of Provinces for adoption, after which it will be signed into law by the president, leaving motorists virtually powerless to defend themselves.
“Your ability to exercise your constitutional right to a fair trial by electing to be tried in court, is to be removed entirely. If a traffic cop issues an infringement notice to you, you are regarded as being guilty and immediately considered to be a debtor.”
With the SA National Taxi Council already against the Aarto Amendment Bill, motorists can expect more road-blocking protests — like this one staged by eThekwini bus drivers against unpaid wages last year — if the current provisons of the bill are...