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How to deal with traffic fines?

Traffic fines. To many people, these are pieces of paper that are stuffed into the cubby, and forgotten. Many people think they’ll deal with them later, or that they’ll wait until a letter arrives in the mail reminding them of their infringement.

The Automobile Association (AA) receives many enquiries regarding the legality of fines, and whether a fine must be paid if only an infringement notice is received. The answer is a little more complex than a simple yes or no. Fines are issued under two pieces of legislation and it is within these two authorities that confusion occurs. Fines can be issued under the AARTO system or under the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA).

Despite the confusion that occurs with regards to fines, the AA always advises that it is the responsibility of the motorist to deal with traffic fines in a responsible manner. If you fail to act responsibly, whether for an AARTO or CPA fine, the consequences that result will affect you and no-one else.

AARTO fines

In Tshwane and Johannesburg, a system called the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO), is in place. This is a parallel system to normal road traffic enforcement, and has been instituted with a view to eventually doing away with other road traffic enforcement notices. It was planned to have this system rolled-out to other provinces.

AARTO fines range from R100 to R250 mainly for pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles, and R250 to R1500 for motorised vehicles. AARTO offences, i.e. serious road traffic offences like reckless or negligent driving, drink-driving, culpable homicide, etc. are still dealt with by the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and involve criminal charges for offenders.

By far, the majority of traffic prosecution in South Africa is for speed-related infringements.

An infringement is a minor offence which can be paid, for example, for failing to wear a safety belt. Any document required to be served on an infringer in terms of the AARTO Act, must be served on the infringer personally or sent by registered mail to his or her last known address on the Electronic National Transport Information System (eNatis).

Firstly, an infringement notice is issued, and must be served via registered mail. This notice allows the infringer an automatic 50% discount of the original amount of the fine, should such notice be paid within the required time as stipulated on the notice.

Thereafter a courtesy letter will be issued by the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) – which administers the AARTO system – if a fine has not been paid. The courtesy letter is a reminder that the infringer has failed to respond or use the options made available to him/her. The courtesy letter has an administrative amount added to it.

This means that in addition to the full penalty amount, the infringer will pay an additional administrative fee.

If an infringer ignores the courtesy letter for another period of 32 days, the Registrar will authorize an Enforcement Order. The Enforcement Order means that the infringer may be blocked from performing all transactions on the e-NaTIS. This means that the infringer will not be able to do the following:

-          renew his/her driving licence when it expires,

-          renew his/her vehicle`s licence disc when it expires, and,

-          renew his/her Professional Driving Licence when it expires.

If an infringer does not react to the Enforcement Order for another 32 days, a warrant of execution will be authorized by the Registrar. The warrant will not mean that the infringer will be arrested by traffic officers if stopped on the road or at a roadblock. The warrant does authorize that the RTIA can engage the services of the Sheriffs to seize the infringer`s movable goods, and sell them to pay for all the costs. The authority can list you with the credit bureau.

Consequences of ignoring traffic fines

Under AARTO, the consequences of ignoring your traffic fines have a severe financial impact on you, and strict timelines are prescribed in the Act and Regulations for processes, and their associated penalties.

This process takes six months from the date of infringement to closure with severe consequences in-between.  Note that all AARTO 03 infringement notices (camera fines) must be served via registered mail, no exceptions. However, if this condition is met, and you fail to collect the document within ten days of posting, it is deemed by law to have been served, so don’t think you can get away with not signing for it.

Licence discs and driving licence renewals may be withheld if any one infringement notice in your name has progressed to an enforcement order. Prior to the existence of an enforcement order, this practice is unlawful, under the AARTO legislation.

The most important fact with respect to AARTO fines are that a summons or warrant of arrest with respect to an infringement notice (fine) may NEVER be issued under any circumstances.

Fines issued under the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA)

The consequences of not attending to these fines can be significantly more traumatic to motorists who think that they can simply ignore them; the result could be the issue of a warrant of arrest against the vehicle owner concerned.

Although traffic authorities regularly, and with impunity abuse the provisions of the CPA with respect to service of criminal summonses, there is blame on both sides that needs to be apportioned. One needs to remember that a summons with respect to a camera fine would never be generated in the first place unless the registered owner of the vehicle ignored a notice issued under Section 341 of the CPA when it was generated.

Whilst it is certainly true that the CPA’s lack of requirement for notices to be served in any way other than standard (non-registered) post has often lead to the lack of delivery of these notices, it is equally true that many people say “I will wait for the summons”.

This is an extremely hazardous practice since process servers sometimes incorrectly, and unlawfully, serve these summonses by not delivering them in person, and then lying on service returns to the courts.

It has even become increasingly apparent that summonses issued under Section 54 of the CPA have been posted instead of personally served, and despite this being completely unlawful, it does not help the person who has been affected in this manner when they miss their court date.

Magistrates who see their and the courts’ time being wasted by people who fail to appear on the stipulated court date on these summonses do not delve deeply into how or if the summonses were served, they presume that process servers have been honest on their returns, and simply apply a contempt of court charge and issue a warrant of arrest for the offender who has failed to appear before them.

The AA offers a service called AA Added Value for fines which will check your details against the traffic fines database on a regular basis. Should your name appear on this database, we will contact you immediately of fines which have been issued, or which are outstanding against your name.

The AA will also present the merits of a fine reduction on to the relevant traffic department on your behalf, and 100 percent of any recovery or discount will be passed back to you.

The benefits of using this service are:

·         Security knowing that you are aware of any fines issued in your name,

·         Guaranteed maximum discounts,

·         Relief from worrying about queues, or the administrative nightmare of dealing with traffic departments,

·         Safe, secure payment facilities that provide proof of fine settlement for your peace of mind,

·         Legal and administrative support, and representation on your fine-related matters. We’ll even contest the fine/s on your behalf where there is a case to do so.

For more information on this service please visit: https://www.aa.co.za/content/FINES%20HANDBOOK-STD.pdf

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