Cosatu hails demerit system: Road deaths a 'massive drain' on economy, workers' pockets

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has hit back at critics of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Amendment Act, saying it is both a "progressive" and "draconian" move to curb the economic and human cost of traffic accidents.

The trade union federation lamented the impact of reckless driving, saying it was "devastating" to the economy, and that costly fuel levies for the Road Accident Fund were a "massive drain" on workers' pockets.

"On average 14 000, South Africans die every year on our roads, mostly due to reckless driving. This is devastating not only to those families who have lost their loved ones but also to an economy desperate for growth," said Cosatu Parliamentary Coordinator Matthew Parks.

"It is a massive drain on workers’ wages and the economy through the expensive fuel levy that funds the Road Accident Fund."

The Automobile Association called road deaths a "national crisis" when it was revealed that over 134 000 people were killed on South Africa's roads in 10 years, with over 14 000 killed in 2017.

In 2018, the Auditor-General found that the Road Accident Fund was on the verge of collapse. Its deficit rose from R179.9bn in the 2017 financial year to R206.3bn in the 2018 financial year, with the AG expressing "significant doubt" that it had a sustainable future due to its dire financial situation.

"The Aarto Amendment Act is tough. It is draconian. Drivers will have to change their reckless behaviour drastically or face the risk and consequences of having their driving licenses suspended.  But that is a small price to pay when compared to what 14 000 families go through every year when having to bury their children, husbands and wives," said Parks.

Revenue first?

He declared Cosatu "amazed and dismayed" by critics of the Act, including the Organisation Against Tax Abuse and the AA, adding: "Drunken driving, excessive speeding, driving on the side of a road, overloading unroadworthy vehicles are not constitutional rights."

OUTA last week issued a statement arguing that Aarto – which is rooted in a demerit system for errant drivers – was "less about road safety and more about generating revenue through a complicated and administratively unworkable system".

They also argued that aspects of the new administrative system "opens the door for financial irregularities and bloated bureaucracy".

The AA, similarly, argued that while it supported a demerit system, the structure of Aarto suggested a greater emphasis on revenue collection than road safety. Funds should be poured into enforcement, it argued.

"There must be increased investment and focus on providing appropriately resourced and deployed traffic law enforcement around the country," the AA said.

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