THE Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) amendment act, in which the demerit system for traffic offences is based, has been declared unconstitutional and invalid.

In a judgment delivered on Thursday, 13 January in the high court in Pretoria, the court found that the act was not consistent with the constitution in its entirety.

Judge Annali Basson ruled: “It therefore follows in my view that the AARTO Act and the Amendment Act must be declared to be inconsistent with the Constitution in its entirety. It is therefore declared that the AARTO Act and the Amendment Acts are unconstitutional and invalid.”

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) approached the court in October last year where they argued that the planned amendment would make life difficult for motorists in that infringement notices sent in various electronic ways could not confirm delivery and that it was open to corruption.

The demerit system was gazetted by minister of transport, Fikile Mbalula in 2020 and was to be in effect from July 2021.

About R500  million had been budgeted for the roll-out by the department.

The system meant that every driver would start at zero demerit points on their driving licence, but if 12 points were accumulated, the driving licence would be suspended for three months.

On the other hand, it would reward good driving by subtracting points, up to -12.

The court ordered Mbalula and the road traffic infringement authority (RTIA) to pay OUTA’s costs, including the costs of two counsel.

The civil organisation’s executive director of the accountability and governance, adv Stefanie Fick, said it was unfortunate that government chose to ignore the citizens’ concerns and well researched input, and pushed ahead with the amendment.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision. OUTA believes that AARTO in its current format does nothing to improve road safety, nor does it reduce the scourge of road fatalities in South Africa. We are satisfied that the judgment will be sending government back to the drawing board. This time around, we trust the relevant departments will engage meaningfully with civil society to obtain our input when developing such important policies for the country. South Africa needs effective processes enabled by fair adjudication that complies with the Constitution,” said Fick.