In a significant ruling, the Constitutional Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (Aarto).
Apex court overturns Gauteng High Court ruling on AARTO Act
This decision comes after the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria previously declared Aarto unconstitutional and called for its complete scrapping.
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo delivered a unanimous judgment, on Wednesday, stating that AARTO’s provisions and the method of serving notices to alleged offenders are in line with the Constitution.
The court also emphasised that Parliament possessed the authority to pass the Act, dismissing the argument that it had transferred powers from municipalities to other state organs.
Here’s a detailed explainer on how the AARTO Act impacts motorists
AARTO establishes a unified national system for regulating road traffic and holding motorists accountable for traffic violations.
However, comprehending the AARTO Act can be challenging for the average person, as it differs significantly from the Criminal Procedure Act, which governs road traffic offences in most parts of South Africa, excluding Tshwane and Johannesburg where the AARTO Act applies.
Here’s an overview of how the current AARTO Act operates:
- Infringers: Individuals or entities who allegedly violate road traffic laws, categorised as “infringements,” are referred to as “infringers.”
- Issuing Authorities: Traffic and metro police departments, national, provincial, and local authorities, as well as institutions like SANRAL and SAPS, act as “issuing authorities.”
The Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA):
- Established by Section 3 of the AARTO Act in 2007, the RTIA serves as a debt collector, an “independent arbiter” between alleged infringers and issuing authorities, and an administrator of the forthcoming points-demerit system.
- Funding for the RTIA primarily comes from traffic fines and related fees.
Classification of Offenses:
- Road traffic offences are classified as “infringements” or “offences” according to Schedule 3 of the AARTO Act.
- Infringements are handled administratively under the AARTO Act, while offences are prosecuted under the Criminal Procedure Act.
AARTO Act Traffic Fines:
- When an infringement occurs, an “infringement notice” is issued, detailing the allegation and offering a 50% discount on the penalty for prompt payment.
- Alleged infringers have 32 days from the notice’s service to take action, which includes paying the penalty, making representations to the RTIA, applying for instalment payments, electing a court trial, or nominating the driver if the registered owner wasn’t driving at the time.
Automated System and Adjudication Procedure:
- The AARTO Act places the responsibility on alleged infringers to respond to infringement notices or other AARTO documents, triggering an automated adjudication process if no action is taken.
- The adjudication procedure follows a legislated framework, but in practice, the RTIA sometimes selectively applies its provisions, which contravenes both the AARTO Act and the South African Constitution.
- Courtesy Letter: If no action is taken within 32 days of the infringement notice, a courtesy letter is issued, forfeiting the discount and adding an additional fee.
- Enforcement Order: If the courtesy letter is disregarded, an enforcement order is issued. Demerit points are applied, and various licenses and permits may be restricted until the penalty is paid.
- Warrant of Execution: If an enforcement order remains unresolved, the RTIA can issue a warrant of execution, authorizing the seizure of movable property, driving licenses, and license discs. However, this provision is set to be repealed by the AARTO Amendment Act.
Under this Act, can motorists be summoned to trial?
It is important to note that the AARTO Act’s provisions currently do not provide an automatic right to a trial before an ordinary court.
However, the AARTO Amendment Act, when proclaimed, may introduce changes to this aspect.
Although the AARTO Act has undergone scrutiny and legal challenges, the Constitutional Court’s ruling upholding its constitutionality signifies that it will continue to shape the regulation of road traffic offences and accountability for motorists.