Civil society groups have voiced concerns about the constitutionality and financial viability of the controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (Aarto), which will use demerits to ensure that errant drivers follow the rules of the road.

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the bill into law last week. It is aimed at improving safety on SA’s roads.

Though it is not active yet, under Aarto drivers will be subject to a demerit points system that will penalise repeat offenders on the road. Once system is in place, drivers will start with 0 points and will be allowed to drive until they reach a maximum of 12 points.

The licences of drivers who exceed 12 points will be suspended for three months and licences that have been suspended more than three times will be cancelled.

Penalised drivers can retake the learner’s and driver’s tests after the suspension has lapsed.

Those who want to challenge a traffic infringement will have to do so in an extrajudicial process, which will be run and managed by the Road Traffic Infringement Agency and not in court, as in the current system. 

Rudie Heyneke, portfolio manager for transport for the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), said the organisation would take the bill to court once it is published in the government gazette.

“It is not only the unconstitutionality that we are worried about. There are a lot of other little things that need to be explained. What’s also very worrying are the costs to implement this,” said Heyneke.

He questioned what the budget would be to pay staff who will be implementing Aarto, including qualified representation officers and the tribunal to which drivers can appeal against their infringements.

“I believe that they [members of the tribunal] will get the same remuneration as a board member — we are talking about a board chairman, a deputy chairman and so on. The costs just on personnel will be quite high.”

Heyneke said the bill could be used to force Gauteng drivers to pay e-toll fees.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said the department was looking to introduce more stringent measures and that the demerit system was not unusual as other countries also used it. The details of how it would work were still being decided, he said.

Justice Project SA’s chairman Howard Dembovsky said the bill did not consider people’s rights to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

With Jeff Wicks, Shain Germaner and Graeme Hosken