National Road Traffic Amendment Bill: Department response to public submissions

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02 June 2021
Chairperson: Mr M Zwane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Transport, 02 June 2021

The Department of Transport (DoT) presented some statistics the Committee requested before continuing with the Department response to public submissions on the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill.

Members were disappointed with the bureaucratic responses from DoT that were quick to dismiss the public's comments. Many DoT responses referenced the 24/7 traffic law enforcement regime which had been promised forever but had not materialised. This put the Committee in an awkward position as the Department made the success of the Bill dependent on something that must still happen. Some Members did not think the alcohol ban was substantiated by statistics and suggested that drunk pedestrians were the cause of many fatal accidents. On the microdot number plates, it was suggested that DoT should explore SADC regulations and ensure they were aligned due to cross-border traffic. Members also asked why the renewal period for a driver’s licence was five years and not ten years.

Meeting report

National Road Traffic Amendment Bill [B7-2020]
Adv Johannes Makgatho, Chief Director: Road Transport Regulation, before continuing to present the Department response to the public submissions, noted that the Committee had requested the number of public comments in support of reducing the blood alcohol limit and the number of those against it. The Committee also requested proof of engagements with the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) and South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) when the Bill was developed. It had also requested statistics for fatalities. He wanted to confirm this was all the information he had to provide. He would share the presentation later with the Committee.

Mr L Mangcu (ANC) confirmed that was the information requested but it also included the number of submissions that did or did not approve microdots on licence plates. It was not limited to the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. The alcohol content seemed to have attracted a lot of interest. Whatever the Department was able to provide to assist the Committee. 

Adv Makgatho went though the list of public submissions and indicated those that said 'yes' to zero blood alcohol and those that said 'no' and those which had no comment. For example, of the Dear SA submissions, 1201 said yes to the alcohol ban and 4007 said no.

Adv Makgatho provided the Committee with the minutes of the stakeholder meeting with signed attendance from NRCS and the SABS representatives that confirmed their attendance. He gave statistics from a 2015 traffic officer survey on people not wearing safety belts.

Adv Makgatho continued the Department response to public submissions where he left off in the previous meeting which was from slide 142. He managed to conclude all 280 slides.

Mr C Hunsinger (DA) did not like Adv Makgatho saying he did not want to "bore the Committee with details". The Committee was very much focused on details. Members had already received copies of the document and detail was very important to the work of the Committee. He was not happy by the constant DoT response to submissions that "24/7 road traffic law enforcement will improve the road traffic environment" as DoT's idea of valuable input. The 24/7 feasibility study was still being assessed. Only one out of the nine provinces had the 24/7 regime. It put the Committee on the back foot. DoT put the Committee in an awkward position in that the success of what needed to be decided on in the Bill was subject to a 24/7 regime that still needed to happen. That put the Committee in a bad position.

DoT's general comment that alcohol consumption leads to crashes still needed to be proven. There was a wide grey area in proving, even if the driver in the crash had a high alcohol volume, that it was the alcohol that caused the crash. The implications on the economy were accepted and widely debated in various forums. It was a premise which could not be presented in first instance.

The number plate should solely be directed at benefiting the end user, nothing else. He believed that the system should, in application, involve something wider than just number plates. Since the Committee was dealing with legislation speaking to road traffic and transport, the cross-border element of transport must be considered. The Committee should also explore input from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to ensure they were aligned to elements and regulations in the SADC environment. He thanked Adv Makgatho for his endurance in compiling and presenting the DoT response to the large volume of public comments.  

Mr L McDonald (ANC) noted that the 2015 traffic officer survey was statistics for infringements of people not wearing a seatbelt and were not statistics for people who died due to not wearing a seatbelt. He would have liked that data as there was a huge gap in traffic law enforcement in the country. There were a lot of laws but none were being enforced. The Bill was designed to impede drivers from drinking but 50% of accidents relating to alcohol deaths in South Africa were pedestrians. Nowhere in the Bill did it mention how the death of drunk pedestrians was going to be curbed. Spatial development due to the apartheid regime had caused people to walk many kilometres to towns and unfortunately, people walked on the streets drunk, causing accidents. There was nothing being done about those pedestrians. The Bill focused on punishing the drivers while 50% of alcohol related accidents were caused by drunk pedestrians.

The Committee must consider that medicine contains alcohol. He referred to 1-propanol, isopropanol, denatured ethanol? These were used in medicine not just cough syrup. These could be found in toothache medicine, laxatives, mouth wash. The Committee had to look at this holistically. The Department’s response to everyone was that they before driving they must read the medicine packaging first as there might be alcohol. Not everyone had a degree in chemistry. An ordinary South African walks into the shop not feeling well, then buys a bottle of Vicks medicine, drinks it and his daughter calls him to pick her up, he drives and gets caught, now he would have a criminal record for drunken driving.

Mr McDonald said he had driven the country’s roads, but he had not seen a single “Keep left Pass right” board. He asked Adv Makgatho to withdraw this DoT response to a submission because there were no such signs in the whole of South Africa.

Mr Mangcu said his comments were limited as the Committee would have its own robust deliberations. He reminded the Committee that it was the legislature which had the responsibility to legislate. The Department responses to the public participants had been bureaucratic ones which more often than not, were defending the status quo rather than engaging with what the people were saying and assisting legislators to make up their mind. As the Members applied their mind, they should remind themselves what their role was and what public participation was. That would help the Committee not to be too technical when they did not have to.

The promise of 24/7 enforcement was not something that excited the Committee as this had been promised for too long. He was disappointed that DoT was still using the same old excuses. On the fraud strategy - when would that come? Generally, he was disappointed by the Department’s response to the participants. To a certain extent it showed disdain to the people by inviting comments while it dug in its heels and continued on its track. That was setting a very bad precedent. He wanted to hear the guidance of the Committee as there was a lot that came out in the Subcommittee Report, especially around manufacturers and importers that left a big gap. The Department did not seem to even think about what the Public Protector Report said. If you looked at the Public Protector Report, it did not seem as if DoT took it to heart and make the best attempt to prevent similar things in the future.  

Mr P Mey (FF+) asked why the renewal of a drivers’ licence was five years not ten years. Alcohol percentages should stay the same, there was nothing wrong with the alcohol content. What was needed was better law enforcement.

Department response
Adv Makgatho apologised to Mr McDonald on the “Keep left Pass right” response. He said the intent was not to anger or disrespect anyone. He withdrew this response that there were signs that indicated “Keep left Pass right”.

The Chairperson said one should not be technical about that. When one took a driver's licence test, one was taught to keep left and pass right. What Mr McDonald meant was that there should be signs that reminded drivers that they should keep left and pass right.

Adv Makgatho replied that five-year licence renewal was needed as people’s eyesight faded as years went by; therefore a compulsory eye test needed to be taken. DoT needed to be certain that at the licence renewal, they took the fingerprints to ensure identity certainty. DoT reviewed the renewal period from a road safety perspective, nothing more. There was a provision in the National Road Traffic Act to that effect. He heartily noted the comments by Members.

Mr John Motsatsing, DoT Chief Director: Road Regulation, said the Department was still engaging on the proposal on the 10 year renewal process for the driver’s licence card. What reminder training for drivers would they do in the interim leading to towards the 10 years.  When the Department reviewed the entire driving licence process, they needed to do a reminder training which must be taken by drivers. The current legislation still provided for the 5-year renewal period. If the Department was to review the entire process, they would have to come up with some form of intervention leading to the 10 years as road traffic signs changed over time.

The Chairperson appreciated the presentation. The Committee would give the Department the information on the matter raised by Mr Mey on the closure of the Driving Licence and Testing Centre (DLTC) in Joubertina.

Committee programme
The Chairperson said at the next meeting they would confirm the third term programme which had three weeks. There were three requests before the Committee and he asked the Secretary to identify these.

The Committee Secretary replied there was a request from the Law Society of South Africa which wanted to discuss administrative and procedural challenges of the Road Accident Fund. There was a request from the African Rail Industry Association to discuss the study it initiated on access to rail network granted to third party rail operators and they also wanted to talk about the ERT Bill. They were one of the organisations at the public hearings. The third request was from an organisation which wanted to discuss cleansing rituals of the national roads.

The Chairperson thought he should bring these requests to the Committee. There was no space for those requests in the third term programme unless Members wanted to create a space in the evening. The Committee had already decided that Members were not available during the extended constituency period.

Mr Hunsinger said it was important for the Committee to react positively to each of the requestors in addition to their initial submissions. The Committee must request them to submit reasons the matter should be regarded as urgent. That would give the Committee an opportunity to prioritise matters related to the legislation the Committee was currently considering.

Mr Mey agreed and said it would be interesting to listen to the Law Society report.

The Chairperson explained that Mr Hunsinger was not saying the Committee should call in the organisations; rather he was saying the organisations should give more information on their request and then the Committee would be able to determine its importance.

Ms M Ramadwa (ANC) agreed with Mr Hunsinger. The Committee had taken the decision not to do committee work during the recess. However, she wanted to check if it was possible for the Committee to sacrifice some days from its recess if there was a need to meet with these organisations after gain more information. If the matters were urgent, she suggested the sacrificing some days during recess to attend to those who needed the Committee’s attention.

The Chairperson said Members should make that call when all the information was before the Committee. He noted a request by Mr Mangcu that Members should familiarise themselves with the Subcommittee report which had been sent to Members. Mr Mangcu was of the view that the report would help the Committee in dealing with the National Road Traffic Amendment (NRTA) Bill.

Meeting adjourned.

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