AARTO: Dramatic redesign or drop?

(Download SAVRALA’a AARTO Amendment Bill submission to Department of Transport)

The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) was promulgated in 1998 and, at its core, when read with the National Road Traffic Offences Act was intended to;

a) decriminalise road traffic infringements by managing them administratively thereby giving much needed capacity to the court system and standardising infringements nationally

b) create a system of demerit points which should change driver behaviour and reduce the carnage on the country’s roads Fifteen years and many announcements from various Ministers of Transport and Government officials later, we remain in a situation where AARTO is only partially implemented in Tshwane and Johannesburg.

Everywhere else around the country the Criminal Procedures Act (CPA) applies which, for example, sees different jurisdictions applying different fine amounts for the same offence and then processing the offence through their local courts.

As can be expected, one of the key requirements for any prosecutorial process to be successful is the correct identification of the driver who committed the infringement. Before traffic enforcement by camera became as popular as it is with the authorities, many road users contravening the laws of the road were identified by a patrolling law enforcement officer who proceeded to pull over the driver, check for valid identification, advise the driver of the relevant law that was broken and then proceed to write up a fine.

Unfortunately, the new modern version of traffic enforcement largely relies on police officers sitting with their camera equipment concealed behind bridge columns or bushes and then downloading pictures of the vehicle registrations to a computer system. Before any camera infringement can then be processed, the registration must be matched against the vehicle owner details via Enatis.

Although the percentage may vary, it is generally accepted Enatis is just 30% accurate. Consequently, a huge number of traffic infringements are sent out to the incorrect drivers and invariably return back to the authorities in a return post bag which becomes a costly and wasteful exercise. Despite the various methods employed by some of the authorities to get around this problem, the lack of accurate and updated vehicle owner details on Enatis remains a major stumbling block for both the authorities, SAVRALA members and general vehicle owners.

The problem of driver identification, is generally less of a problem for leasing companies than car rental operators, however, they share an administrative burden when trying to process traffic fines. Typically, a leased vehicle will be allocated to an individual for a number of years so any traffic infringements received by the leasing company, all things being equal, can be reasonably assumed to be for that individual.

Leased vehicles in a pool would require the customer leasing the vehicles to have a system to track which of their employee’s drove which vehicle where and when. This becomes more complicated in a car rental environment where customers (first time and frequent renters) want to simply pick up their reserved vehicle without delays in administration. The car rental company has a very short window of opportunity to check the authenticity of the customer having produced only their drivers licence and credit card.

Under AARTO, the driver’s details are required for the fine to be redirected. In order for the authorities to redirect the fine to the correct person, the necessary AARTO document (to be completed
in full), requires a long list of details even including the renters fax number. Overseas renters, who do not have a South Africa ID number, cause further complications. As car rental companies will very often only have minimal and often only local contact details for the renter, this leaves a lot of information gaps in the AARTO documents required for submission.

The process of now trying to resolve outstanding traffic fines has become both an expensive and time consuming exercise for all involved. The administration designed in 1998 is largely irrelevant for today and this, at last, has been recognised by the authorities in the recent publication for comment of the AARTO Amendment Bill. While the Bill tries to offer an electronic solution to some of the administrative bottlenecks, it just raises further problems. It is also of concern the proposed wording begins to try and shift the responsibility for an outstanding payment to the vehicle owner rather than the driver of the vehicle at that time. SAVRALA will oppose this, as the aforementioned simply moves the burden of
unpaid traffic fines to the car rental and leasing companies.

While Government continues to speak about Road Safety in terms of the Decade of Action, we have yet to see the road carnage tide turn and the numbers ebb back from the annual loss of more than 14 000 lives costing the economy in excess of R300-billion.

AARTO started out with noble intentions and was modelled on successes in several developed countries, however, after so many years of controversy and lack of national adoption, it may well now be the time to either dramatically redesign it to simply focus on those key factors that cause road fatalities (eg drunk driving, excessive high speeds, road worthiness, seat belts etc) or drop it completely and go back to the drawing board.

(Download SAVRALA’a AARTO Amendment Bill submission to Department of Transport)