How to lose your driver’s licence under South Africa’s new traffic fine laws

Fully-licenced South African drivers must commit at least three serious violations within a fairly short period to have their licence suspended under the incoming Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act.

The controversial legislation is now set to be in force from July 2024, after the Constitutional Court overturned a previous High Court ruling declaring the Act unconstitutional and invalid.

A core part of the Aarto Act is the introduction of a demerit points system for driving licences, similar to the approach taken in many other jurisdictions — including Australia, parts of Canada and the US, several European countries, and the UK.

Under Aarto, all licences will start with 0 demerit points.

Demerit points are applied once a fine is paid, an enforcement order is issued, or a person charged with a criminal traffic offence is convicted.

Learner drivers can only accumulate up to 6 points before their licences are suspended for three months, while fully-licenced drivers need 15 points for a suspension.

Based on the demerit points set out in the Act, a learner’s licence will be suspended after just one of the most serious violations — including driving with a different class of vehicle than their licence allows.

If they drive without a fully-licenced driver in the car, they will accumulate 5 points. This places a learner driver just one minor infraction — like driving with a broken light lamp or failing to have all passengers wear their seatbelts — from a suspension.

Fully-licenced drivers must commit at least three serious offences to have their licence suspended. Unless these fall under criminal offences, they must occur within three months.

Driving a class of vehicle that falls under a different licence category, failure to licence your car, failure to stop at the command of a traffic officer, and reckless or negligent driving all carry 6 demerit points and are regarded as criminal offences.

Excessive speeding — over 40km/h above the zone’s limit — also gets you 6 demerits.

The table below summarises some of the 2,000 possible infringements/offences under Aarto, ranked from those with the highest number of demerit points to the lowest.

General road law violations
Infringement/offence Fine amount/punishment Demerit points
Driver is unlicenced to drive class of vehicle Criminal offence 6
Failed to licence vehicle Criminal offence 6
Failure to stop vehicle on the command of a traffic officer Criminal offence 6
Reckless or negligent driving/Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol Criminal offence 6
Driving a vehicle with a learner’s licence with no licensed driver in the car R3,500 5
Removed or altered components of vehicle affecting its roadworthiness R3,500 5
Operated a vehicle with a brake that is not in good working order R3,500 5
Operated a vehicle on a public road with expired licence R2,000 3
Operated a vehicle on a public road without a licence R2,000 3
Operated a vehicle between sunset and sunrise or during unfavourable visibility conditions without lamps R1,500 2
Failed to stop behind the line at a stop street R1,500 2
Failed to obey stop sign R1,500 2
Skipped a red traffic light R1,500 2
Failed to obey directions at a four-way stop sign R1,500 2
Failed to proceed when a traffic light was green R1,000 1
Driver did not ensure that all passengers were wearing seatbelts R1,500 1
Operated a vehicle with a damaged lamp R1,000 1
Vehicle not fitted with seatbelts correctly R1,000 1
Seatbelts not working properly R500 1
Failed to obey yield sign R1,000 1
Failed to comply with directions of a road traffic sign by not maintaining or exceeding the specified speed limit R1,000 1
Failed to comply with directions of a road traffic sign by not passing on the left-hand side R500 1
Stop lamp not emitting a red light when in use R1,000 1
Failed to display vehicle licence disc R2,000 0
Inconsiderate driving R1,000 0
Failed to pay ordinary or e-toll fee per gantry/plaza R500 0
Speeding  violations
Demerit points 40km/h zone 60km/h zone 80km/h zone 100km/h zone 120km/h zone Fine amount
0 51-55km/h 71-75km/h 91-95km/h 111-115km/h 131-135km/h R250
1 56-60km/h 76-80km/h 96-100km/h 116-120km/h 136-140km/h R500
2 61-65km/h 81-85km/h 101-105km/h 121-125km/h 141-145km/h R750
3 66-70km/h 86-90km/h 106-110km/h 126-130km/h 146-150km/h R1,000
4 71-75km/h 91-95km/h 111-115km/h 131-135km/h 151-155km/h R1,250
5 76-80km/h 96-100km/h 116-120km/h 136-140km/h 156-160km/h R1,500
6 80+ 100+ 120+ 140+ 160+ Criminal offence

For every three months that pass, one demerit point will automatically expire, so you will scratch four points from your name in a year if you don’t commit additional violations.

During a suspension, you cannot apply for a driving licence, professional driving permit, motor vehicle licence disc, operator card or any other permit.

If the demerit points threshold is exceeded for a third time, after two previous suspensions, the licence card or learner’s licence is cancelled.

The RTIA will offer a rehabilitation programme for motorists with a cancelled licence or those who want their demerit points reduced faster once they have accumulated four or more.

Each driver can only attend this once a year.

Bribery and appeals

While one could conclude that it would be a tall order for most law-abiding drivers to get their licence suspended, that will only be the case if the system is administered efficiently and without corruption.

Traffic officials in South Africa are infamous for accepting bribes, so opponents of Aarto are concerned they might abuse the demerit system.

It could end up inadvertently functioning as an additional incentive for motorists, even those wrongly accused of an infringement or offence, to bribe an official rather than pay the fine and get points on their licence.

Fortunately, Aarto distinguishes between two types of road law violations — infringements and offences.

The former is considered less severe and comes with a fine and can also have demerit points, while the latter is regarded as a serious criminal matter and also carries demerit points.

The upside to the latter is that a court will first have to rule that the driver was indeed guilty of the offence, automatically providing an opportunity to defend one’s case in the event of wrongful accusation.

You can also appeal infringements by making a written representation to the RTIA explaining why you should not be held accountable for the violation.

While the criminal process has been the status quo for many years, it remains to be seen how effective the RTIA’s appeals process will be.

Now read: Municipalities could avoid losing millions in speeding fines to Aarto — but you will still get demerit points

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How to lose your driver’s licence under South Africa’s new traffic fine laws