Understanding AARTO

Unfortunately, and almost certainly deliberately, the AARTO Act is not the easiest thing for the lay person to understand. It differs completely from the Criminal Procedure Act which is currently used to prosecute road traffic offences everywhere else in South Africa – except in Tshwane and Johannesburg where the AARTO Act applies.

Below is an outline of how the current AARTO Act works:

NOTE: The AARTO Amendment Act will change many of these processes if/when it is implemented nationally on 1 July 2021.

The role players in the AARTO Act

Infringers

People and entities who allegedly violate road traffic laws classified as “infringements” are called “infringers”.

Issuing Authorities

“Issuing authorities” are traffic/metro police departments run by national, provincial and local authorities. SANRAL, SAPS and a plethora of other state institutions are also an issuing authorities.

The Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA)

The Road Traffic Infringement Agency, to be renamed the Road Traffic Infringement Authority by the AARTO Amendment Act, (RTIA) was created by Section 3 of the AARTO Act on 1 July 2007. It’s functions are to act as a debt collector, so-called “independent arbiter” between alleged infringers and issuing authorities, and to administer the points-demerit system when it comes into force.

It is almost solely funded by traffic fines, together with the fees it raises on them.

To learn more about the RTIA, click here.

Classification of “infringements” and “offences”

Road Traffic offences are categorised by Schedule 3 to the AARTO Act as “infringements” or “offences”.

  • Infringements are dealt with administratively – by the AARTO Act.
  • Offences are still prosecuted in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.
  • The difference between an “infringement” and an “offence” is that if a person is convicted of an “infringement”, they will not incur a criminal record. A person convicted of an “offence” will.

Traffic fines issued in terms of the AARTO Act

Where a person or entity stands accused of an infringement, a document called an “infringement notice” is issued. It makes the allegation and entices payment by offering a 50% discount on the penalty. An alleged infringer has 32 days from the service (or presumed service) of an infringement notice to act.

Unlike is the case with the Criminal Procedure Act, no summons is catered for in the AARTO Act and your constitutional right to a trial is not a right; it is currently something you have to elect to be afforded if you stand accused of an infringement. This is set to change if/when the AARTO Amendment Act is proclaimed to be in force. At that time, no-one will be entitled to a trial before an ordinary Court – even if they protest their innocence.

An automated system

The AARTO Act places the onus on the alleged infringer to take action when receiving an infringement notice or other AARTO document, failing which the the practically automated adjudication procedure kicks in.

The adjudication procedure

The adjudication procedure is outlined below and is what is legislated. In practice however, the RTIA does its own thing and selectively applies its provisions. This is not allowed by the AARTO Act or the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, but the RTIA apparently does not care what is and isn’t allowed by law.

The infringement notice

A traffic fine issued in terms of the AARTO Act starts off with an infringement notice. The alleged infringer then has 32 days to:

  • Pay the penalty – at 50% discount;
  • Make representation to the RTIA;
  • Apply to pay in instalments;
  • Elect to be tried in Court; or
  • Nominate the driver if the registered owner was not the driver at the time of the alleged infringement.

The “courtesy” letter

If the alleged infringer fails to act on an infringement notice within 32 days of its service or presumed service, a courtesy letter is issued. The discount is forfeited and an additional fee (currently R60) is added to the penalty. The alleged infringer then has 32 days to:

  • Pay 100% of the penalty, plus the fee for the courtesy letter;
  • Make representation to the RTIA; or
  • Elect to be tried in Court.

»It is important to note that the registered owner may not nominate the driver at this stage.

The enforcement order

If the alleged infringer fails to act on a courtesy letter within 32 days of its service or presumed service, an enforcement order is issued. an additional fee (currently R60) is added to the penalty and:

  • The demerit points are applied to the alleged infringer’s driving licence or operator card;
  • No driving licence may be issued;
  • No professional driving permit may be issued; and
  • No licence disc may be issued.

All of this happens in the complete absence of a trial, unless the alleged infringer has elected to be tried in Court.

The alleged infringer then has 32 days to:

  • Pay 100% of the penalty, plus the fees for the courtesy letter and enforcement order; or
  • Apply to the Registrar of the RTIA to have the enforcement order revoked.

The warrant of execution

If an alleged infringer fails to act on an enforcement order, the Registrar of the RTIA may, if he or she wishes to do so,  issue a warrant of execution. Such warrant authorises the Sheriff to:

  • Seize movable property to the value of the penalty and its fees, together with his or her fees;
  • Seize the driving licence card of the alleged infringer;
  • Seize and/or deface all vehicle licence discs belonging to the alleged infringer; and
  • “Disable” the alleged infringer’s vehicle.

»No warrants of execution have been issued to date and this provision is repealed by the AARTO Amendment Act.

Presumption of service

The AARTO Act requires that where any document is required to be served in terms of its provisions, it must be served personally, or by so-called “registered mail”. The AARTO Amendment Act intends to also allow “electronic service”, which encompasses a broad range of electronic facilities.

Whether such document is received by the intended addressee or not is of no interest to the authority that posted it. Instead, Section 30(2) of the AARTO Act provides that such document is “regarded” as having been served on the tenth day after posting. It does however contain a proviso that an alleged infringer may adduce evidence (which may be in the form of an affidavit) that the document was not served. That’s all well and good, but the RTIA regularly ignores such affidavits.

Now read: the role of the RTIA.