Fleet companies will have to adequately prepare for the impending demerit fine system, set to be introduced nationwide in early 2009 in terms of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act, says Avis Fleet Services MD Laurence Savage.

He says that the Act requires the licensed owner of a vehicle to be able to prove who was driving the vehicle at any time and, with regard to vehicle fleets, where more than one person drives a particular vehicle, the Act demands greater clarification on ownership and responsibility, to ensure that demerit points are not unfairly credited to individuals. He notes, therefore, that operational accountability is a fundamental issue that needs to be tackled.

“One has to be careful about using drivers with many demerits to their names. When determining which drivers will drive, there will have to be a more careful screening process, otherwise one could have an entire workforce with demerit points.

“Also, if a manager within the fleet industry does not deal with the management of his drivers, or allocate the points properly among the drivers in his fleet, he will ultimately end up with the fleet impounded, and a warrant of execution from the sheriff of the court,” he says.

In terms of the Act, drivers will start with zero points and will accumulate points for each traffic offence. The maximum number of points allowed is 12, and every point exceeding that number will result in a three-month suspension of a driver’s licence.

Businesses must themselves take control in limiting the demerit points accumulated by their drivers. If one breaches a first infringement notice, it continues to a second notice, called a courtesy letter, and onto an enforcement order, whereby, in 60 days, the sheriff of the court can seize and sell one’s movable property and deface licence discs and operator cards on all vehicles.

A licence can be permanently revoked once it has been sus- pended for the third time. How-ever, in order to reward good driving, a point will be reduced every three months if no infringements occur within that period.

While in the past the focus on fleet management centred on the asset, more attention will need to be paid to driver management, says Savage.

He recommends that, where possible, the responsible driver of company fleet vehicles should be registered as the ‘owner’, so as to best comply with the requirements of AARTO regulations.

“The AARTO Act will require stringent systems and processes. It’s only logical that a company’s asset, invariably valued at about R120 000, would be assigned to a person to take accountability of its usage,” he says.

In turn, says Savage, companies and financial providers, if the vehicle is financed, should be registered as the “title holder”. He says pool cars would require a time and attendance system to maintain accurate information about who was using the vehicle at any particular time.

Savage says that fleet operators will also have to consider the impact of the legislation on labour contracts, adding that it is important for procedures to be drawn up to ensure that employees are well informed of the implications and requirements of the Act, as well as company policies.

In terms of the Act, an employer would need an employee’s written consent to obtain his or her demerit points record and, as such, labour contracts would need to be further reviewed, as well as the scenario around drivers who have had their licences revoked and need transport in their line of work.

Savage says Avis Fleet Services has embraced the concept largely because of the need to reduce road fatalities, the official figure for which is about 17 000 people a year. He maintains that the new system is a positive development, with about 90% of all road accidents linked to traffic offences.

He says the biggest bene- fit to fleet operators will be increased driver responsibility and a reduction in fleet vehicle accidents. However, he notes, the Act will also have a major impact on corporate car policies and practices.

To prepare for it, he notes, all fleet services companies will require systems being put in place to determine who is driving a vehicle at any particular time, with on-board computers and driver management systems as an option. Further he says, customers need to be educated on how the new system works, adding that fleet companies that have adaptable and flexible systems will be best prepared for the new system.
The AARTO Act has already been piloted in Tshwane since July, with a pilot set for Johannesburg in November of this year. Savage says that the pilot has been reason- ably effective, but points out that it is early days yet.

Australia and the UK have already successfully implemented similar systems.