The complex issue concerning refusal by the authorities to renew vehicle and drivers’ licences due to unpaid fines is once again in the spotlight.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) says it has received numerous complaints from motorists who have received SMSes informing them that they have outstanding enforcement orders that will prevent them from renewing their vehicle or driving licences. In many cases motorists are unaware of any outstanding infringement notices for unpaid fines.
Upon further investigation, Outa discovered that the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) had issued enforcement orders and bypassed a crucial step in the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act. “Whether the RTIA’s failure to comply with its process is attributed to capacity constraints or malicious collection practices remains a mystery,” says Adv Stefanie Fick, Outa’s head of legal. “Nevertheless, this cannot continue at the expense of motorists.”
Fick explains that there is a certain process to be followed once a motorist gets issued with a fine for a traffic offence. “Firstly, the infringer will be issued with an infringement notice to inform him or her of the offence. This infringement notice must contain all relevant information related to the infringement, including that the infringer must within 32 days of the notice act on it – either by paying or contesting the fine.”
Should an infringer fail to act upon either of the options as listed above within 32 days, the RTIA must issue and serve a courtesy letter on the infringer. “A courtesy letter is exactly that,” Fick explains.
The aim of a courtesy letter is to ensure that an infringer is informed of the infringement he or she has committed and its consequences thereof. “Where a courtesy letter is absent, the RTIA has deprived an infringer from the opportunity to comply with an infringement notice, resulting in a more serious consequence – an enforcement order. If this is the case, it means that the RTIA has failed to follow its own process.”
The absence of a courtesy letter also implies that the enforcement order may be unenforceable and can potentially be set aside by a court of law.
“However, setting aside a flawed enforcement order requires time, money and resources – something an infringer should not be burdened with when the administrative flaw is a result of the RTIA’s own conduct. Considering the current state of our judicial system under various Covid-19 regulations, electing to have the matter dealt with in court is not something that everybody may have an appetite for.”
Fick says it is concerning that the RTIA apparently cannot currently cope with the administrative processes. “How will they be able to cope with the Aarto Amendment Act that will be rolled out nationwide by July 2021 and where a demerit system will add even more problems to the mix?”
Outa has urged motorists to check regularly whether they have enforcement orders on the Aarto website (www.aarto.gov.za) and especially before they arrange for the renewal of their licences (both motor vehicle and drivers’ licences).
“If motorists are confronted with enforcement orders at licence renewal centres, they don’t have time to apply for the revocation of the enforcement orders – a step they have a legal right to – and are forced to pay the outstanding amount. Therefore, it is a good idea to check this beforehand.”