AARTO legislation on track for September 2003

Business Report, Feb. 2003 

During Minister of Public Enterprises, Jeff Radebe’s tenure as acting Minister of Transport, it seems likely that the much-postponed Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act of 1998 (AARTO) legislation, will get the green light after four years on the legislative backburner.

Following a meeting with the National Department of Transport (NDOT) on 12 February, respected transport consultant, Alta Swanepoel, confirmed that “September 2003 is looking good.”

Commenting on behalf of the Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (SAVRALA), an association spokesperson applauded the Act as a “well thought through document. SAVRALA is supportive of any legislation and initiatives that instill disciplines and a more responsible mindset among South Africa’s road-users.”

He went on to say, however, that should the legislation as it currently stands be implemented, fleet management (FM) and rental companies would be prejudiced in terms of the services they are able to offer customers.

This pending legislation has long been of concern to SAVRALA and, despite extensive consultation with the NDOT and Chief Provincial Traffic Officers by the association’s legal sub-committee, there had been no acknowledgement by government of the need for any real changes.

In October 2002, the sub-committee reported that assurances made to involve them more in the final stages of the legislation had not been met. Meetings scheduled for early 2003 have also since been cancelled on three occasions.

According to SAVRALA president, John Broadway, one of the key areas that will affect the association’s members is the points demerit system, an integral part of the National Traffic Information Systems (NaTIS) outlined in Section 24 of the Act.

In terms of NaTIS, demerits will accrue to the driver identified at the time of the offence. Traffic offences will attract demerits and when these reach a certain level, the owner will not be able to re-license or sell the vehicle.

“Under NaTIS, the owner is defined as the end-user of the vehicle and is typically the driver or operator of the vehicle and responsible for its licensing,” says Broadway. “In the case of FM companies, however, this could be the corporate customer and in rental companies, virtually anyone.”

The title holder is the entity that has financial lien to the vehicle and is responsible for the registration or de-registration of the vehicle. The problem is that, traditionally, fleet management companies have had the rights of both titleholders and owners, allowing them to perform and manage the task of registering and licensing vehicles on behalf of their customers.

As the proposed legislation stands, FM companies will be liable to pay all demerit fines incurred by the drivers of the vehicles under their management. Broadway says that these companies are therefore faced with the decision whether to continue to register as both titleholder and owner or get customers to license their own vehicles by themselves and becoming the owners.

Swanepoel confirms “the problem is that fleet management companies are the licensed owners of their vehicles and the legislation has not allowed for this. With more than six million vehicles on SA roads, these fleets represent a very small percentage and Government is unlikely to review the legislation to accommodate them at this late stage.”

“A third Amendment to the Act was approved by Parliament in November 2002 and is on Thabo Mbeki’s table for signature,” she continued. “All the basic principles, however, remain the same, only minor administrative changes have been made.”

The next step would be the issuing of a Proclamation, which, once signed off, would result in the appointment of a registrar and the formation of the agency. A six month pilot programme would be implemented in the Pretoria area and legislation up to and including Section 23 of the Act would be enforced. This falls just short of the points demerit system legislation contained in Section 24.

Swanepoel is confident that a six month trial of the legislation and testing of computer systems and technologies would provide a good case study. “Thereafter, a countrywide roll-out should take about 18 months,” she said.

Broadway once again urges association members to prepare themselves. “AARTO is almost upon us and each of us must ensure that our company infrastructure is up to speed with the demands facing us.”