Transport authorities promise that new point demerit scheme will strike habitual traffic offenders hard.

The Transport Department’s long-awaited point demerit scheme is set to be rolled out as a pilot project in Tshwane in February next year — a decade after it was conceived.

If the pilot project proves successful, it will be followed by a national roll-out by August 2009.

The implementation of the scheme, which forms part of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act, will see a clampdown on habitual traffic offenders, who risk the suspension or cancellation of their licences, depending on the number of points they chalk up.

The department has been unable to comply with its roll-out deadlines over the years because of delays in feasibility studies, an assessment of technological requirements, law enforcement criteria and an analysis of the human resources needed to ensure its successful implementation.

The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), tasked to oversee the implementation of the system, has projected that the training of law enforcement agents and marketing of the system will cost about R30-million.

The government is spending more than R4-million on the training of magistrates, prosecutors and traffic officers, who will play a pivotal role in enforcing the new system.

Training for the pilot project is already under way and the national training programme is expected to kick off in January next year.

“Training will initially be undertaken at 46 locations around the country. It is envisaged that 2 300 officials from various disciplines will be trained.

“Further training will be undertaken by relevant training colleges,” said Japh Chuwe, an AARTO senior manager.

The transport department refused to commit to an exact date for the pilot roll-out, but a RTMC official confirmed February 1 as the launch date.

Thabo Tsholetsane, acting head of the RTMC, attributed the constant delays to transport authorities striving for a flawless system for the pilot project.

“We don’t want to encounter any problems on roll-out and have to ensure that every detail is in place before it gets off the ground in Tshwane,” he said.

Tshwane will be used as a guinea pig before national implementation about 18 months later, in August 2009.

Tsholetsane said the pilot project will be a “dry run” to test the system and administrative processes and would not put Tshwane drivers at a disadvantage.

“We can’t punish some people while others have impunity. The actual system [where demerit points will be allocated] will only be implemented once the entire country comes on line ,” he said.

Any infringements or offences committed anywhere in South Africa will be recorded in a national road traffic contravention register, which will be contained in the NaTIS (National Traffic Information System) programme against the name of the traffic violator.

The NaTIS programme is being upgraded to recognise contraventions and allocate points to traffic violators.

Transport authorities said NaTIS’s initial problems had been resolved and the system has been “operating satisfactorily since April”. But contingency plans and back-up systems have been put into place should any problems be experienced.

Transport spokesman Collen Msibi said the department scrutinised a number of international models , including Australia.

“It does work in other parts of the world. That is we why thought this is a good system for South Africa, particularly with the kind of accidents that we see,” he said.

According to the department’s statistics, more than 15 000 people lose their lives on South African roads annually, while 60 000 are seriously injured. These accidents cost the country approximately R46-billion a year.

“We think that people will start to be more careful and will realise that, if they commit traffic offences, they may lose their licences. This system is going to hit hard,” Msibi said.

“The number of people dying on our roads is unacceptable [and] as government we need to do something. It’s definitely going to save lots of lives in South Africa,” he continued.

Gerrie Botha, RTMC’s senior manager of research and development, said: “The fact that 90% of all road accidents are preceded by a road traffic offence makes the improvement of road-user perceptions, attitudes and behaviour a matter of urgency.”

Botha said the present system of fine collection is totally inadequate. Fines are either not paid or substantially reduced by magistrates, or bribes are paid to get off altogether.

“Currently less than 20% of traffic cases are finalised and the fines paid,” Botha explained. “The new system brings with it improved fine-collection procedures and a revenue stream that will be used for improving road safety, as well as more convenient ways of paying fines and more penalties for not paying within the prescribed time.”

Botha said this failure to pay will eventually lead to confiscation of movable property and ultimately to being declared unfit to operate a motor vehicle.

But Moira Winslow, head of Drive Alive, said she was “not hopeful” about the new system.

“I don’t want to be negative, but I spent the last 10 years trying to be hopeful. The traffic authorities are unable to enforce the laws we currently have in place — what makes this any different?

“I can only hope it’s going to work. But given the history of the Transport Department …we have to wait and see,” Winslow said.

South Africans Against Drunk Driving’s Corrin Magowan added: “It’s about time this country introduced such a system. Whether it will be properly enforced is another matter. If they enforce it, speed will come down, drunk driving will come down and accidents will come down.

“It’s crazy. Nowhere else in this world do so many people drive either fast, badly or drunk,” Magowan said.

What some motorists had to say about the system …

  • Minibus taxi driver Mondli Mdluli: “It is not necessary to introduce this system. I don’t think it will work in our country. They shouldn’t add points for silly things like speeding, maybe for drunken driving. I don’t like this system that’s coming.”
  • Israel Mkhize, a private taxi driver, said: “Hey, this system is going to be bad for us. It’s going to put people like me out of work. If I lose my licence, I can’t work. They must keep it.”
  • Human resources officer Kubi Naidoo: “I would like to see this system work, especially to alleviate the taxi situation. But I don’t think we have the manpower to make it a success. Also, what stops people from bribing traffic officers?’
  • Mabongi Tohyie, who delivers flowers, said: “I’m worried about this system. I don’t want the police to take my licence away in case I make mistakes on the road. The road is not important, they must worry about the crime in the country.”
  • Metered taxi driver Phillip Terblanche: “I think it’s very good. If you follow the rules of the road and abide by the law, there will be no problems. Road carnage is very high, we need something drastic to reduce it. I’m happy, I hope it works.”