Georgina Guedes

Driving demerit system won’t do much

2015-05-15 12:23

Georgina Guedes

Apparently, we’re going to get the long-awaited traffic offence demerit system. It will be implemented on 1 April next year.

A word of advice to all involved: if you are going to launch a thing that you have repeatedly failed to launch, setting the start date as 1 April is probably not the best idea.

Regardless, they seem fairly confident this time. “The days of non-compliance to road traffic laws without consequences are truly over,” said Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga, speaking at the launch of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA), which will implement the Administrative Adjudication of Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) and the demerit points system.

Carnage on our roads

There’s no denying that South Africans are lunatics on the road. A short drive to drop the kids at school, or a long drive down to the coast will affirm that statement for anyone with eyes in their heads and hands on the wheel.

Every year, at least 14 000 people die on our roads. That’s around 40 people every day. We’ve been saying for years that something needs to be done, but I’m just not entirely sure that AARTO is that thing.

For one thing, when Deputy Minister Chikunga says that there are currently no consequences to non-compliance to road traffic laws, that’s not strictly true. In fact, the kind of behaviour that we’re hoping to curtail comes with the biggest consequence of all. You know, death.

So if the risk of death isn’t enough to stop people driving at 190kmph, or overtaking on a blind rise, or driving drunker than a lord, I don’t think that they’ll be more scared of having their licences taken away. Loads of South African drivers don’t even have licences to start with.

Better training necessary
The one thing that Chikunga said that did make a lot of sense was that the duration of the training of officers needs to be extended and that corruption needs to be stamped out. “We are working with crime intelligence to root out corrupt activities. We will remove the corrupt officers and even blacklist them,” she said.

This gets a little closer to the heart of the issue. It’s not that we need harsher penalties or a whole new body to deal with the administrative side of things. It’s that we need traffic laws to be effectively enforced by the people charged with this task.

And actually, those laws aren’t just speeding. There are a whole lot of bad driving behaviours that the police could be… er… policing that have nothing to do with how fast the car is going. So I hope that this extended training won’t be about teaching the officers to set better speed traps.

Improve the education of road users

Another aspect that needs to be addressed is road user education. I believe that there is an element of callous lawlessness at play on our roads, but at the same time, I think that there is also a severe lack of knowledge about the implications of inconsiderate and deadly behaviour.

Combining better officer training with road user education will, I believe, have a far greater impact than creating a whole new demerit system that will ultimately see an increase in unlicenced drivers on our roads.

Or did government think that those reckless minibus taxi and BMW drivers would really stop driving when you take their licences away?

Hopes and fears

Another of Chikunga’s winning observations was that over 500 000 drivers were licensed in 2014, and “We hope those people did not buy the licences.”
I hope so too, Chikunga. The only difference is that one of us has the power to do something about it. I’m glad your department is making inroads (see what I did there?) into dealing with this problem, but please bear in mind that success lies in the implementation, not in the punishment.

Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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