Transport Minister Dipuo Peters. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO

The Department of Transport will seek to reclassify drunken driving as a schedule 5 offence, the same category as rape and murder, in a raft of measures aimed at reducing deaths on South African roads.

Road fatalities rose 5% in the 2016-17 festive season, and Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said on Tuesday that 2017 could see harsher sentences, including minimum sentencing, and
the introduction of the long-awaited point demerit system for licences.

The minister’s announcement could prompt a review of existing legislation governing enforcement instruments.

Classifying drunk driving as a schedule 5 offence would put the burden of proof for meeting bail conditions on the accused rather than the state.

A point-demerit system, which may be implemented nationally by the end of 2017, depends on the transfer of the Electronic National Traffic Information System (eNatis), which is facing another legal challenge.

Peters announced that 1,714 people were killed in road accidents during the period December 1 to January 9.

Road deaths in Limpopo increased 31% year on year, KwaZulu-Natal was up 18% and Free State 17%, Peters said.

The increase in road deaths came despite a number of festive-season interventions through the seasonal road safety programme and significant resources, Peters said.

There appeared to have been an "influx" onto the road network of drivers who were not competent or qualified, she said.

"I have instructed the Road Traffic Management Corporation to undertake an audit of how driving licences as well as roadworthiness certificates are processed and issued by our testing stations," she said.

Justice Project SA (JPSA) chairman Howard Dembovsky said on Tuesday that it was doubtful the tougher measures would be implemented.

The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) had been in the offing for a number of years, and, while the JPSA was in favour of minimum sentencing, categorising drunk driving as a schedule 5 offence was "too astounding to contemplate", he said.

If an audit of testing stations took place it would be welcomed, but would be 15 years late. The Special Investigating Unit had, for example, informed the department that half of all driving licences issued between 1998 and 2002 had been issued irregularly, he said.

DA transport spokesman Manny de Freitas said on Tuesday that the department’s threats of punitive measures and campaigns were "recycled", while the Automobile Association also noted the similarity of the minister’s comments to those of previous years.

Road Traffic Management Corporation board chairman Zola Majavu said the transfer of the eNatis system, ordered by the Constitutional Court, had been expected by December 8.

Transfer had been delayed by the threat of new litigation from current operator Tasima.

The transfer of the system was seen as a necessary condition for the implementation of amendments to Aarto, the chairman said.

The amendment bill, currently before Parliament, will allow for the eventual cancellation of the licences of habitual traffic offenders.

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