traffic police

Image: Arrive Alive

Motorists beware: Drivers’ demerit system just six months down the road

After being debated and condemned for many years, the new drivers’ demerit system is almost here. Get the plans and the punishments here.

traffic police

Image: Arrive Alive

In true South African tradition, the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act concerning the allocation of demerit points which has been kicked down the road for too many years to count, is due to come into effect on 1 July 2021 — and it has only required a 540-page “directive”  to get it going.

Better drivers or better bribes?

Besides knowing that a certain breed of traffic officials will be rubbing their hands together gleefully in anticipation of new sources of “lunch money” income, it appears that local drivers will finally begin to be held to account. Of course, the exceptions will be well-heeled drivers who keep an anti-demerit store of crinklies handy and taxi drivers who seemingly have laws of their own.

As a person who takes life seriously, I blinked a few times when reading the schedule. The one that caught my eye was a R2 000 penalty (and three points) for not obeying a traffic officer directing traffic. I’m accustomed to seeing well-nourished cops sitting in their cars chatting on cellphones while vehicles just a few metres away battle to cross intersections where traffic lights have failed. 

But directing traffic? Wow, maybe things will change

Then again, wouldn’t it be nice to see the national sport of jumping red lights becoming a thing of the past? Let’s get serious. The idea is that every time an offence is committed (there are more than 2 000 of them that apply to all classes of vehicles and their drivers), the driver is allocated points.

These demerit points range from sanctions of a single point to six points and are additional to any fines that are payable.

All’s well until the limit of 15 points is reached. Then the penalties begin.

A rough guide to demerit points system:

  • Exceeding 15 points will mean losing the right to drive for three months – for every point exceeding 15 points.  
  • Drivers must then hand over their licence or permit (commercial) and collect it again after the disqualification period is complete;
  • The time value of each point is three months for disqualification or reduction purposes;
  • If demerit points are allocated and no further demerit points are accrued in three months after receiving the previous demerit point, a reduction of one point on the total number of demerit points will be recorded on the system;
  • Flouting the rules continually and having accrued three disqualifications ( a total of 45 points) then “hasta la vista” – the licence is cancelled; and
  • Getting a licence back means serving a disqualification period, then redoing a learner’s licence and driving licence test.

Learner drivers

A learner driver can only rack up six points before facing the music, and any demerit points earned only start reducing when a licence is issued. Earn six points, and a learner’s permit is suspended.

(All good news for anxious parents who feel that their youngsters’ ambitions to be F1 drivers need curbing). 

Check the Aarto Act

The best way to get to grips with what will be enforced is to read the punishable acts in full in the Aarto legislation or the Government Gazette (Be prepared. It’s like War and Peace and just as depressing.)

In the meantime, as things get underway, let’s salute the minister and parliamentarians. They seem to be clinging to the idea besides evidence to the contrary, that making laws mean that things will change. There’s a whole lot more to it and other considerations, such as consistent, effective and widespread policing need to be part of the equation.

The below table provides a brief overview of the demerit points and fines you can expect, although this is subject to change. The demerit points are outlined in more detail in the gazette.

InfringementFine amountDemerit points (for non-juristic persons)
Failure to comply and licences
Failure to stop vehicle on the command of a traffic officerN/A6
Failure to comply with the direction of a police officer who is directing trafficR2 0003
Operated a vehicle on a public road with expired licenceR2 0003
Operated a vehicle on a public road without a licenceR2 0003
Driving a vehicle with a learner’s licence with no licensed driver in the carR3 5005
Roadworthiness and lights
Removed or altered components of vehicle affecting its roadworthinessR3 5005
Operated a vehicle with a brake that is not in good working orderR3 5005
Operated a vehicle with a damaged lamp (light)R1 0001
Operated a vehicle between sunset and sunrise or during unfavourable visibility conditions without lampsR1 5002
Stop lamp (light) not emitting a red light when in useR1 0001
Driver did not ensure that all passengers were wearing seatbeltsR1 5001
Vehicle not fitted with seatbelts correctlyR1 0001
Seatbelts not working properlyR5001
Traffic signs and speed limits
Failed to obey stop signR1 5002
Failed to obey yield signR1 0001
Failed to obey directions at a four-way stop signR1 5002
Failed to comply with directions of a road traffic sign by not maintaining or exceeding the specified speed limitR1 0001
Failed to comply with directions of a road traffic sign by not passing on the left-hand sideR5001