04 June 2014
1963 was a prophetic year for the Automobile Association. Tucked away in the minutes of an AA management meeting is a resolution that South Africa needed a points demerit system to improve traffic law compliance. The AA had carefully studied the implementation of Canada's system (implemented in 1953) as well as that of the USA (1958) and resolved to lobby the South African transport authorities for something similar on home soil.
It was to be a slow process which was continually shifted down the priority list while South Africa tackled some of the basics it needed to put itself on the road to safety. It took until 1989 - 26 years later – for the country to get a unified National Road Traffic Act and a more modern driving licence test. It took another four years at least to establish the National Traffic Information System – NATIS – which later went online as e-Natis. And it was only in 1998 that the long-awaited credit card driving licence became a reality. In the same year, the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act – AARTO - was passed, establishing the foundation for unclogging the courts by removing all but the most serious traffic violations from the criminal prosecution process.
AARTO did three main things: firstly it established the concept of an 'infringement' – a traffic violation which could be dealt with administratively (like a parking ticket), as opposed to an 'offence' which remains a criminal issue (like drunk driving). Secondly AARTO created an agency to administer the process, the Road Traffic Infringement Agency. And thirdly, it provided for a demerit points system which punishes repeated violations by suspending or cancelling a motorist's driving licence. The Tshwane and Johannesburg Metros have been in an AARTO pilot phase since 2008, but the points demerit system has not yet been implemented, and probably won't be until AARTO is rolled out nationally.
The logistical challenges of a national rollout have been a bridge too far for the Department of Transport: it will need effective computer systems, good administration and empowerment of law enforcement officers with electronic terminals countrywide. The initial target date for national rollout was December 2009, almost five years ago, but the rollout has been repeatedly delayed and now seems to be on the back burner until the issues which have arisen in the pilot project can be resolved.
However, it cannot be postponed forever, and sooner or later points demerit will be implemented. So what will that mean for you? The answer: nothing at all unless you are a really appalling driver. Any points you do acquire by committing traffic violations expire at the rate of one every three months, so if you do get the odd minor fine, it's unlikely to tip you over the 12-point limit which would cost your licence. But if you frequently commit serious infringements, like driving through red traffic lights or crossing barrier lines, you will find yourself exceeding the 12-point limit in no time at all.
And that's the point – the demerit system does not target the occasional violator, but the habitual one. Such people will soon find themselves without licences. If they continue to drive while their licence is suspended, they risk having their licence cancelled altogether and being forced to re-sit the driving test. And if they crash while their licence is suspended, their insurers will be entitled to repudiate their claims. And that, again, is the point – why should the law-abiding motorist pay higher premiums to subsidise bad drivers? You can be sure that insurers will be quick to implement premium hikes which are related to the number of points you have on your licence, providing a financial incentive to be a more cautious driver.
All this is good news for drivers who are prepared to toe the line, and they have nothing to fear from AARTO. The AA's view is that the sooner points demerit is implemented, the better. It's time habitual lawbreakers on our roads were shown the door.