Love letters from the law

2012-11-16 10:28

Guess what’s coming to you this festive season, crawling out of the woodwork like that unexpected aunt? Janine-Lee Gordon navigates the bumpy road of how to deal with traffic fines

A few months ago, a letter landed on my desk from a man who had snapped my picture back in January 2010.

This dear man is an employee of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), and it only took him two and a half years to send it to me.

I was driving a test vehicle and I understand it probably had to go back and forth to trace the actual driver at the time of the offence, but more than 30 months is a bit ridiculous.

My first thought was that it could not still be valid and I dismissed it. According to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) website, the fine does not exist.

The fine is still lying on my desk and will probably stay there for a long time.

With Christmas around the corner, roadblocks become common.

And if you have a heap of fines you’ve simply ignored, it doesn’t mean they’ve vanished.

JMPD spokesperson Wayne Minnaar says motorists need to remember one thing, that “traffic fines never expire. With the Aarto system, you get a 50% discount if the fine is paid within 32 days of receiving the notice. After that, there’ll be reminders.”

He adds that fines sometimes take a while to reach offending drivers due to factors that are out of the JMPD’s control.

“We depend on the postal services and there are many other factors that contribute to motorists not receiving their first notice.

Silly things such as the wind blowing mail away or they land up at the wrong address,” he says.

He does, however, encourage motorists to contest their fines in writing if they think the fines are in error or unjust.

“You can write a letter to the department or request a representation of cancellation,” he says, warning motorists to be cautious of fraudulent SMSes or emails requesting fines to be paid. He recommends that drivers visit the JMPD website or query their fines by ringing up the call centre.

According to motoring expert Rob Handfield-Jones, you can only be arrested for a traffic fine if there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest.

He says: “Usually the warrant is for not appearing in court to answer the charge on that fine, and also if the original warrant is produced at the roadblock, although the latter only applies to a fine issued in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.

“You cannot be arrested at all for not paying an Aarto fine. The whole purpose of Aarto is to make the traffic fine process administrative rather than criminal.”

Handfield-Jones adds it’s obviously important not to give the police reason to arrest you, like “giving them attitude” and so forth.

“These actions might just lead to your lawful arrest for obstructing an officer in the performance of his duties and if you have committed another arrestable offence, such as drunk driving.

“In the event of an arrest, you should not resist because if it is an unlawful act, including harassment or physical abuse, you will almost certainly be able to claim damages later,” he says.

According Gary Ronald, the spokesperson of the Automobile Association of SA, most people are concerned about the validity of old fines. “Unfortunately,” he says, “traffic fines never expire, but if you fall under Johannesburg or the Ekurhuleni metropolitan districts, it could depend on whether it is an Aarto fine or not. This means the Aarto traffic infringement must be sent via registered mail within 32 days or, under the old system like the rest of the provinces, served to you in person.”

Fines older than 32 days may be contested in court. Most people don’t have the time to take off from work to do this so fines either get paid, or are mostly ignored.

According to Ronald, there is no basis on which motorists may be arrested at roadblocks, or obliged to pay for outstanding fines, but they do have to pay for outstanding warrants of arrest.

Tips:

» Visit www.aartosa.co.za to query fines and check your driving licence status. 086 122 7861

» Visit www.jmpd.paymyfines.co.za and register to pay fines online. 086 123 1123

» Follow me on Twitter @SpeedQueen

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