South Africa introduces the demerit system for driving offences

South African Demerit System for Traffic Offenders

Many countries use a demerit system of some kind for traffic violations. On a basic-level, a demerit system entails drivers losing points on their licenses for each transgression. Points are scaled, so a parking fine may cost you one point while driving an overloaded vehicle may cost you 5 points. In South Africa’s case, drivers will be allocated 12 points. Should they lose all 12 points within one year, their licenses will be suspended. After three suspensions the licenses of particularly negligent, reckless or unfortunate drivers will be cancelled and drivers will be fined. But a penalty-free year (which means no transgressions) will earn drivers an additional 12 points and a bonus point.

South Africa has been threatening to introduce the demerit system for some time, with nothing really coming of it. It was taken for a test drive in Pretoria towards the end of 2008, but owing to a number of unforeseen hiccups, the nation-wide release has been delayed until 2010. In the meantime, the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offenses system (AARTO) released a list of traffic violations along with their fines and cost in points. And motorists will be informed of the number of points that would have been docked from their licenses had the system been in place, presumably in an attempt to notify people of their lucky escape and convince them of the importance of safer driving in the future.

There will be incentives (read rewards) for drivers who settle their fines within 32 days. Prompt payment will earn road rule violators a 50% discount, which seems contradictory to very nature of the punishment system, as drivers are unlikely to learn anything other than to pay fines as soon as possible. Those who feel the need to dispute their fines can opt for a court trial.

Presumably a great deal of research and preparation went into the creation of this system; it seems, however, to contain some rather interesting decisions. The most points that you’ll lose in one go is six, in conjunction with a court appearance, and there are quite a few transgressions that will earn you this particular punishment, but there also seem to be some rather glaring inconsistencies, for instance:

  • While driving a motor vehicle with no number plates lands you a 6-point deduction, operating a motor vehicle without a road worthy certificate (in other words a vehicle that is not roadworthy) gets you only a R1000 fine and knocks only 3 points off your license, provided the vehicle weighs more than 3,500kgs. If, however, your vehicle weighs less than 3,500kgs, you only lose 2 points off your license and are fined only R750. Wouldn’t you suppose that a non-roadworthy vehicle poses more danger than a vehicle with no plates? It’s more difficult to track a car with no plates, sure, but it’s not exactly a killing machine, is it?
  • A motor vehicle with no engine number will also take 6 points off your license, but no emergency or parking brakes on both roadworthy and non-roadworthy vehicles is only worth a R750 fine and 2 points, while no reverse gear is worth only R250 and no points and no speedometer comes at a R500, 1-point price.
  • You have to go 40km/h over the speed limit to earn a court appointment and a 6-point demerit, but racing on a public road is only punishable by a R1000 fine and a 3-point demerit.
  • A minibus or passenger vehicle with emergency exits that are too small, or that won’t open from either the inside of the outside garners a 3-point deduction and R1,000 fine, which is pretty lenient when you think how many lives are placed in danger in these improperly equipped vehicles.
  • Not abiding by the safety rules for loading and transporting dangerous substances is worth 4 points and R1,250 – a mere pittance for big companies seeking to save expenses by cutting corners.
  • Reckless driving gets you a place in court and 6 points off your license, while negligent driving results in only a 1-point deduction and a R500 fine.

South Africa has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world so a comprehensive road safety programme is a necessity, but one has to question the wisdom of the one currently proposed.

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