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There could be a big change on the horizon for motorists. The National Assembly has passed the latest Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) amendment bill.

The bill aims to introduce new road traffic violation rules, removing the courts from the AARTO process and replacing them with a dedicated authority.

And, if passed, it’s going to affect you in several ways.

Chief among these is the introduction of the ‘Demerit System’ that has been in the legislative pipeline since 1998. Contrary to what some may tell you, it will not be replacing the current fines system. Instead, it’s an additional measure that aims at rewarding good drivers and punishing repeat offenders.

The bill is just a few steps away from being signed into action by the President, so here’s what you need to know.

The law

The amendment bill facilitates the creation of a centralised “National Road Traffic Offences Register”, which will (in theory) decongest the severely-backlogged fines system currently in place. Envisioned as being nearly totally computerised, the system will allow larger numbers of drivers to be charged simultaneously.

Charges will also no longer be contested in court. Instead, the amendment establishes a special appeal tribunal that will hear objections submitted within 64 days of the offence being recorded.

Legal experts have already pointed out that this contravenes the constitution, which grants all South Africans the right to defend themselves in court.

When dealing with the tribunal, you are presumed guilty until proven otherwise. Objections may be rejected before being appealed, and any appeal will cost you a fee.

The punishment

The demerit system is points-based. Essentially, all drivers start on zero, with a points limit of 12. Points are issued for traffic infringements, with more severe offences warranting heavier penalties.

For every point obtained above 12, your licence will be suspended for three months. For example, a demerit score of 16 will mean that your licence is rendered useless for a whole year.

Points become effective once you have paid the accompanying fine, or after you have established a plan to pay it off, effectively admitting to the offence. They can also be awarded if you fail to do so within 64 days, after which an enforcement order will be issued, or once you have been found guilty by a court of law.

Once an enforcement order is issued, you will not be able to renew your driver’s licence, car licence or PDP until the suspension is lifted.

When your licence is suspended for the third time, it will be completely revoked. If you are caught driving during a suspension, you could face a fine, or jail, or both.

Any person who drives or operates a motor vehicle during his or her disqualification period is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to both a fine as well as such imprisonment.

The reprieve

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. If a driver is issued several fines for several offences at the same time, points will be issued only for the highest-ranking offence. Furthermore, points reduce at the rate of one point for every three months without an infringement.

A massive legal alteration is the abolishment of section 21 of AARTO, which allows incredibly heavy punishments to be carried out at the same time. Drivers who have failed to comply with enforcement orders can potentially have their car impounded, their license revoked, their vehicle licence scrapped, and their operator card revoked – all at once.

Goodbye Section 21, hello demerit system!

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