The City of Cape Town says it has signed an agreement with the sheriffs of the court to execute warrants of arrest for traffic-fine dodgers.
However, critics say the City’s move is a “last ditch” attempt to fill the council purse before the implementation of the Administrative Adjudication of Road and Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) expected to come into effect this year.
Aarto has been many years in the making and will introduce a demerit points system which could see the driver’s licences of repeat offenders suspended or revoked. Aarto will make traffic violations a civil, instead of a criminal matter, to ease the burden on the courts. The City says Aarto has failed elsewhere in the country and it’s prepared to go to court to stop it being implemented in its present form in Cape Town.
In August last year, Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau told Parliament that laws such as Aarto had “noble” intentions but often inconvenienced councils and threatened their finances.
Aarto has been piloted in Johannesburg and Pretoria, but the mayor complained it clogged the City of Johannesburg’s fine database, citing problems with issuing of infringement notices and an inability to get guilty drivers to pay.
Last week the City of Cape Town announced that 14 of the 17 sheriffs operating in the city had signed up to execute warrants on fine-dodgers. It said the traffic officers’ jobs were “meaningless” if the fines they issued could be ignored. JP Smith, Mayco member for safety and security, said holding people accountable ensured higher levels of traffic law compliance. “Sheriffs executing warrants will further help to make our roads safer and reduce deaths and injuries,” said Mr Smith.
The agreement will run for a year, with the option to renew for another.
Sheriffs will be paid for each warrant successfully executed by the receipt of all amounts owing, including the original fine as well as the admission of guilt fine for being in contempt of court.
The remuneration will be calculated on a sliding scale and on a “no success, no pay” basis. Mr Smith said the sliding scale referred to the value of the warrant. So the higher the value, the smaller their percentage.
The City’s drive to improve the rate of traffic fine collection includes several measures:
* The Electronic National Administration Traffic Information System (eNatis) flags motorists who have outstanding warrants, preventing them from renewing their vehicle licences.
* An SMS reminder alerts motorists to outstanding fines.
* Automatic number plate recognition technology in traffic vehicles trace ‘scofflaws’ (someone who habitually flouts the law, especially one who fails to pay debts or answer summonses).
* Ramping up Operation Reclaim, to track down warrant evaders.
The City has boosted its coffers over the past two years though traffic fine income. In 2013/2014, a total of 2 341 374 fines were issued, with an income of R142 340 607; in 2014/2015, it issued 2 464 126 fines, which brought in R227 116 046.
“The introduction of the sheriffs is an added bonus. They are experienced in this field, have flexibility and resources that we aren’t necessarily able to replicate internally, and will no doubt add great value to our efforts to hold motorists accountable.
“It is early days yet, but I am confident that this arrangement will be a fruitful one. I would advise motorists to settle their outstanding fines if they don’t want the sheriff to come knocking,” said Mr Smith.
But online, the City is being lambasted as being over-eager to hit drivers’ pockets. On the Traffic Fines Know your Rights Facebook group, members said: “Of course it is done in the pursuit of revenue … as the money is used in the City budget, ie more money for the City … duuuh.”
Erick Oosthuizen commented: “At R227 million in income for a 12-month period, it is a serious contributor to the City coffers and much will be done to protect that income stream.”
Mike Mcall wondered what would happen “when the sheriff arrives with a warrant for a criminal case and wants to auction goods to the value thereof? It’s not like Aarto, which ends as a civil debt,” he said.
On The Road Safety Lobby – Western Cape Facebook group, Gert Coetzee, said: “Traffic officers sitting under trees or lifeless cameras will not improve traffic safety. Visible policing is the answer. When last did you see a traffic officer stopping an offender?”
In the same post, The Road Safety Lobby – Western Cape responded that this was a “last ditch effort by the City to collect as much traffic-fine revenue before the implementation of Aarto”.
“The City is feeling the heat of a strong possibility of Aarto being implemented this year. Their revenue stream from traffic fine income will drop drastically,” the post read. It claimed the City was “going against the Aarto legislation” meant to ease the burden on the courts by decriminalising traffic offences.
Defending the deal with the sheriffs, Mr Smith said: “I would also like to remind critics who believe that traffic enforcement is done in pursuit of revenue that none of the money from fines comes back to the directorate, but goes into the overall City budget.”
Responding to questions by Tabletalk, Mr Smith said the warrant execution rate was low and the City was “well within our rights to find ways to remedy the situation”.
Referring to “those who continue to peddle the untruth that traffic enforcement is done in pursuit of revenue”, he said: “It really is a fallacy to think this is an attempt at driving up revenue collection. This is about making motorists realise that there are consequences for their actions and improving road safety.”
Asked how Aarto’s implementation will affect the City’s ability to collect traffic-fine revenue, Mr Smith said the implementation date was a moving target – it was supposed to have come into effect next month, but the City had learnt it might only happen sometime next year.
“Quite simply, the system is broken, and we will fight it in court should it be implemented in its current form. The revenue is completely irrelevant, and if we are ultimately forced to implement Aarto we will do so, but the focus will remain on reducing the road death toll and achieving compliance with road traffic regulations and courteous driving,” he said.