The Department of Transport’s demerit system was intended to curb lawlessness on South Africa’s roads, but “teething problems” in Tshwane’s pilot project have delayed this revolutionary system until 2010.

The system, which was piloted in Tshwane earlier this year, was supposed to have been rolled out to the rest of the country by the end of January 2009.

The initiative, which forms part of the government’s Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences system (AARTO), will see motorists issued demerits (or points) for road traffic offences. Accumulating a certain number of points could lead to the suspension of your driving licence.

Thandi Moyo, spokesperson for the Road Traffic Management Corporation, said that although the pilot project was running “relatively well”, its successes or failures could not yet be established.

“It can take up to 120 days for all the motorist’s options to be exhausted. So we have not yet seen the conclusion of many of the notices, and therefore the success or failure of the pilot project cannot be properly judged on this basis.

“To enable a proper assessment of the success or failure of [the system], time must be allowed for a reasonable volume of infringements notices to reach different levels in the process. This is the reason for the delay,” said Moyo.

The AARTO system has been on the cards since 1998, when the act was approved by parliament – but was officially launched by Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe only in July.

Radebe said at the time: “This project is expected to fulfil the objective to encourage people to drive safely. Through the implementation of the points demerit system we will be able to identify habitual offenders who disregard the law, and punish them appropriately.

“Ultimately, this may lead to the suspension and cancellation of driving licences. However, it is a positive system in that we will also reward positive behaviour that shows the motorist is now abiding by the law, through the reduction of the demerit points already allocated.”

Radebe added that by implementing the AARTO, the department would be able to change people’s behaviour from “wanton disregard for road traffic laws, effecting zero-tolerant policies to traffic violations,” and, he hoped, inculcate a new habit of voluntary compliance with road traffic laws.

The demerit system will see every motorist allocated 12 points at the beginning of each year. Each time a driver disobeys the rules of the road, one point will be lost. If the driver loses all 12 points in a year, his or her licence will be suspended.

After three suspensions, the licence will be cancelled and the motorist fined. However, if drivers remain penalty-free at the end of the year, the next year would kick off with an additional 12 points as well as a bonus point.

Moyo said it was expected the demerit system will be rolled out to the rest of Gauteng by November next year and to other provinces by February 2010.

“Even though the marketing of AARTO processes was extensively done, there are still members of the public who are under the impression that demerit points are [already being] allocated. We are not there yet. Offenders are currently given a warning indicating the number of demerit points which would have been given if the system were already implemented.