While there have been whispers of the demerit system coming into effect for years (it was first signed into law in 1998), it has been met with almost two decades of delays. This year, it was overshadowed by bigger news stories – but just because it disappeared from the limelight, doesn’t mean it’s disappeared completely.

In late 2019, it was estimated that the demerit system would come into full effect in June 2020, but due to COVID-19 and a court case from OUTA (The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse), it was delayed.

In October 2020, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula gazetted the latest draft of the Aarto (administrative adjudication of road traffic offences) regulations stating that the roll-out would be complete by July 2021.

South African motorists can expect to lose anywhere between 1 – 6 points (along with fines up to R3,500) for offences that include failing to stop a vehicle on command of a traffic officer, operating a vehicle with an expired license, operating a vehicle with a brake that is not in working order, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt.

According to BusinessTech, the points system will work as follows:

  • The offender will receive the relevant demerit points for infringements, along with the relevant monetary penalty.
  • If the offender receives 15 demerit points, they will be disqualified from driving a vehicle. For learners, the maximum is six demerit points.
  • The length of time that offenders will not be allowed to drive is equal to three months per demerit point exceeding 15 demerit points.
  • If an offender does not receive further demerit points after receiving a demerit point, they will receive a reduction of one demerit point after three months.
  • If an offender is disqualified from operating a vehicle three times, their license will be cancelled, and they will have to re-take their learners’ test and drivers’ test in order to receive a new license.

To avoid the risk of large numbers of motorists becoming disqualified shortly after implementation, the regulations will be rolled out in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Demerit points will be given for hazardous driving behaviour (e.g. speeding, dangerous overtaking, failing to stop at a traffic light), and for failing to drive with a valid license.
  • Phase 2: Once the demerit points from Phase 1 have been evaluated and allocated, demerit points will be given to infringements related to economic significance, including overloading, cross-border transport permits, and operating licenses.
  • Phase 3: The third phase will see the full implementation of the demerit system.

Some of the most pressing concerns expressed by OUTA include the fact that the system relies heavily on the Post Office, a notoriously crumbling institution – which means motorists may not get adequate service or rights to a fair hearing, and it is likely the system will become backlogged.

“We’re not opposed to sanctions against bad driving or the demerit point system. However, this scheme is flawed in its administrative processes, constitutionality and ability to reduce road fatalities,” said Rudie Heyneke, OUTA’s portfolio manager for Transport.

What does this all mean for the average motorist? Well, if you usually adhere to the rules of the road and ensure your vehicle is kept roadworthy, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. But if you do face a demerit infraction, even a relatively small one, opposing it could be an administrative nightmare.

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