The Aarto Amendment Act in its current form was not aimed at addressing road safety but instead was set up as a money-making scheme for the state and was destined to be an administrative headache for drivers.
That’s the general consensus of industry bodies, Naamsa (the automotive business council) and the Road Freight Association (RFA), in welcoming the Pretoria High Court ruling by Judge Annali Basson on Thursday, which declared both the Aarto Act of 1998 and the Aarto Amendment Act of 2019 unconstitutional.
Read: Aarto and Aarto Amendment acts declared unconstitutional
“Many stakeholders have argued that the current legislative changes were mainly skewed towards retributive revenue collection measures than an intervention that will help reduce the scourge of road fatalities in South Africa,” Naamsa CEO Mikel Mabasa said in a statement on Friday.
“The fact that the High Court finds the Aarto Amendment Act unconstitutional is not surprising, as there were many major changes made to the original Act,” Gavin Kelly, CEO of the RFA meanwhile said in a separate statement.
He added that the association “supports the non-implementation of a system that would have created administrative labour and cost nightmares for all South African drivers – and more so any company that operates a fleet”.
“The RFA has been very clear and outspoken about the flaws that the association identified in Aarto, that, in our view, were predicated on revenue generation and not on changing driver behaviour and vehicle maintenance to ensure safer roads,” said Kelly.
“We trust that the Minister of Transport will consider more effective, targeted, sustainable and implementable solutions to reduce road traffic crashes.”
The Aarto Amendment Act, which was challenged by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), planned to implement a demerit system for traffic offences where drivers could expect to be penalised for speeding, ignoring road signs and running red lights, among other offences.
Read: Aarto is ‘dead in the water’ – Outa
However in her ruling, Judge Basson noted that, “the legislation unlawfully intrudes upon the exclusive executive and legislative competence of the local and provincial governments envisaged in the Constitution, preventing local and provincial governments from regulating their own affairs.”
Why Aarto Act of 1998 unconstitutional now?
Despite clearly being pleased with the outcome of the high court challenge by Outa, Kelly said that he finds it interesting that the original Act has been painted with the same unconstitutional brush as the amended version. This is especially interesting considering that the then Bill, before it became the Aarto Act, “passed all constitutional scrutiny”.
Basson put forth the following reasons as to why the acts are to be considered unconstitutional:
- First, the Aarto and Aarto Amendment acts usurp the exclusive legislative authority of the provincial legislatures by regulating road traffic and creating a single, national system to do so. The applicants submitted that provincial, and municipal road and traffic regulation falls within the exclusive legislative competence of the provinces under Schedule 5, Parts A and B of the Constitution.
- Second, the Aarto and Amendment Acts usurp the exclusive executive competence of local government (under Part B of Schedule 5 of the Constitution) to enforce traffic and parking laws at municipal level.
Back to the drawing board
Mabasa said that the outcome of the Pretoria High Court case represents an opportunity to rebuild the road traffic system in a more efficient way.
“We should use this judgment as a progressive development that will allow all key stakeholders to reconnect and go back to the drawing board so that we can have meaningfully engagements that will assist the country to develop policies that will help reduce road traffic fatalities and save lives,” he added.
Listen to Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage speak to Fifi Peters about the High Court victory: