South Africa


Government to implement demerit system for drivers ‘without delay’ after ConCourt ruling

Government to implement demerit system for drivers ‘without delay’ after ConCourt ruling
Traffic and law enforcement officers at a road block at the Heidelberg Weighbridge on the N3 on 8 December 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

The government can implement legislation introducing a demerit system for drivers after a Constitutional Court judgment on Wednesday. The legislation is aimed at making the roads safer, but critics say it’s not workable.

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday greenlighted the implementation of the controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act into law on Wednesday.

The apex court was initially expected to uphold a Pretoria High Court decision made in January 2022, which ruled that Aarto was unconstitutional and invalid, and should be scrapped in its entirety.   

The application to confirm the January 2022 ruling was brought by a civil group, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), which argued that the legislation was flawed in several ways, was concerned about making money and infringed on the rights of drivers and owners of vehicles.

The organisation further advanced that the act intruded on the functions of local and provincial governments as outlined by the Constitution, preventing local and provincial governments from regulating their own affairs, an argument with which the ConCourt disagreed.

The minister of transport, the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, the Road Traffic Infringement Authority (RTIA) and the Appeals Tribunal were the respondents in the matter.

In a unanimous judgment penned by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the court ruled in favour of the transport minister that Aarto was, in fact, lawful and should remain in place, overturning the Pretoria High Court judgment.

“This court has therefore refused to confirm the order of invalidity made by the high court, has upheld the minister’s appeal and set aside the order of the high court and replaced it with an order dismissing Outa’s application,” Chief Justice Zondo said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The carnage on South Africa’s roads is also a human rights issue 

More than 12,500 people lost their lives on South African roads in 2021. The country’s fatality rate of 26 deaths per 100,000 is among the highest in the world and contrasts sharply with a rate of around five deaths per 100,000 for countries in the European Union. 

Business Day has reported that Aarto is seen by the government as a way to penalise repeat driving offenders with a points demerit system. Drivers who collected more than 15 points would have their driver’s licence suspended or eventually cancelled. In addition, Aarto will legalise the serving of fines by email. 

Constitutional, but still impractical

Reacting to the judgment, Outa’s executive director, advocate Stefanie Fick, said the organisation was of the view that the legislation was impractical and would not effectively address the epidemic of road traffic fatalities and injuries.

“We are disappointed with the ConCourt’s decision, but abide by the apex court’s ruling. Outa believes that measures to improve road safety and reduce fatalities are urgently needed. However, we don’t believe that the Aarto Acts will achieve this; it’s just not practically possible. South Africa needs effective processes enabled by fair adjudication that comply with the Constitution,” Fick said. 

The organisation believes that the legislation is likely to result in troublesome and complex issues for most motorists and motor vehicle owners and will not enhance road safety. 

Currently, traffic violations are dealt with as criminal offences, but with Aarto coming into effect, most of the violations will be decriminalised and dealt with through an administrative, rather than criminal, process. 

Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga welcomed the ConCourt judgment, which she said affirmed the government’s view that Aarto had been a necessary law to help arrest the carnage on SA roads.

The legislation, Chikunga said, would help reinforce interventions such as classifying traffic policing as a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job, alongside the regulation of driving schools and the introduction of an NQF Level 6 training for traffic law enforcement officers.  

Move speedily 

“The implementation of this law across the country has been pending for 25 years, with pilots in place in the cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane. With this judgment having cleared the path for the implementation of Aarto, we will move with speed to roll out its implementation across the country without delay.

“In the coming days, we will ensure that the Road Traffic Infringement Agency mobilises the necessary capacity and proceeds with its roll-out plans across all municipalities in the country,” Chikunga said. 

She said the department was ready to implement the legislation and to finalise recommendations to President Cyril Ramaphosa for the appointment of the Appeals Tribunal and the proclamation of the implementation of the Aarto Act and the Aarto Amendment Act.

“We will equally move with speed with the implementation of the points demerit system, an important cornerstone of the Aarto Act intended to drive motorist behaviour on our roads.”  

Lack of administrative discipline

However, Outa argues that the challenges faced by Aarto are largely due to poor enforcement, a lack of administrative discipline when it comes to traffic infringement management and problems in the management of vehicle and driver licensing.

“Merely legislating policy doesn’t make it rational or workable. Governments often suffer from the false belief that if the laws and regulations are in place, the people will simply comply. Irrational and/or impractical laws and a lack of transparency result in pushback from society, making systems ungovernable. 

“The sad reality is that the government begins to suffer from a crisis of legitimacy when it cannot exercise its power over people by effectively enforcing its legislation and policies,” Fick said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Kelly says:


  • Dennis Bailey says:

    “Without delay” is tomorrow – you jest. ANC? Naah.

  • Johan Buys says:

    did they at least fix some of the hilarious parts?

    3 points for unregistered or unlicensed vehicle but 6 points for a registered and licensed vehicle without a number plate.
    4 points for not having your driver license with you makes 2 points for ignoring a traffic light seem like a bargain.

    If you’re fined three times for driving without a driver license, then of course : they suspend your driver license. Think about that for a bit….

    Monty Python could do an hour show using our regulations.

    • Rob Fisher says:

      The day they can convince me that traffic cops are there to keep us safe on the roads, rather than to generate income as a form of tax on the law abiding citizens and ratepayers, I will pay my fines. When they put portable traffic cameras in the dangerous spots and not the spots where the speed limits are obviously too low.

  • Alison Immelman Immelman says:

    I would welcome anything that could make the roads less terrifying. Remove the criminals who make our roads a death trap.
    One problem. When did you last see visible policing on our roads?

  • Andrew R says:

    The taxi industry will love this… Oh wait, they make their own laws so they won’t be bothered!

  • Jim F. says:

    How many points demerit for hauling another driver out of his car and kicking him until unconscious whilst waving a pistol around? Asking for a friend.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Once again, useless legislation brought on by those that don’t understand what they are doing! This will only affect the 40% of road users with genuine, legitimate drivers licenses, when the real problem sits with the 60% of stolen, fraudulent licenses driving unroadworthy vehicles etc… This will do nothing to alleviate the unsafe roads.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    This will be enforced for all drivers, including mini taxies, ANC cadres and blue light brigades? Somehow I doubt it.

  • Rene Kilner says:

    Stefanie is 100% correct. Logic must prevail. I would like to see a JMPD officer enforcing this on a taxi driver in jhb … who has lost all his points in ONE day and now what??? Just try and impound his taxi and see what happens? The taxi industry tells government what, where and when … so let’s see how this plays out ….. who would like to lay some bets?

  • Joemcmahon.knysna says:

    Either the minimal taxi industry is going to be exempt from the regulations,or,we won’t have that taxi industry anymore, because the taxi drivers will get 15 demerit points on a 100 metre stretch of road. So after say 2 months the taxis should have vanished,or,the regulations are not being applied to them.

  • Mervyn Bennun says:

    Remarkably little is known and understood about traffic ‘accidents’. There is a great deal of braai and dinner table wisdom about the causes, but not the reasons behind them. Traffic fatalities in South Africa are an epidemic disease, and a fresh look is needed to understand the causes. There is much to be learned from aviation research about the approach to road traffic safety. The advent of the jet engine and the rapid increase in the world fleet after WW2 was accompanied by a frightening number of apparently inexplicable crashes. Blaming mere “pilot error” was unhelpful. Research led to remarkable results — see the graphs and statistics on the Boeing safety website, covering the entire world’s fleet of all manufacturers, types, and variants. Similar research is needed for road safety. Consider one example: on a dual carriageway with three lanes on each side, in which lane should one drive, why, and should something be done about the matter? Do you personally always attempt to drive according to your opinion? There is a maxim that “Safety is no accident” — one must concentrate. There is a maxim every pilot is taught: “If there is a doubt, then there is no doubt” — one must think critically about what one is doing — do you take a chance? Can such ideas be taught to make driving safer? Adapting an aviation quotation: “A superior driver uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill” — what self-image should a driver have?

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