268 | Should the AARTO point system reward good road users more?

TAKING TURNS ON TRAFFIC: In most instances, the traffic enforcement exercise is all about penalising, and barely about that small token of appreciation for sticking to your contract of trust. Orange cones, yellow jackets, brown outfits, and blue police make a colourful contribution to our road safety environment– but could users be encouraged to do more, do better?

Has anyone been stopped by a traffic officer to receive a tip, rather than a fine? At face value, the only reward for being a good road user is a shared benefit—everyone is safer because of this. 

Someone who does not abide by the rule of law is exposed to a fine or incarceration, if caught as individuals. The collective impact of their behaviour would result in hurt people, or lives lost, and properties damaged if something horrible occurs. 

I mean, who counts the number of lives they save by not breaking the speed limit, not jay-walking freeways, or just not taking road risks in general? 

Would it be rewarding to know how many injuries were prevented by slowing down when approaching a busy road with pedestrians, or just keeping to 120km/h after 20:00 on an open freeway? 

It is certainly one thing to penalise bad behaviour because it occurs after the fact. But rewarding good or exceptional behaviour, is preventative, and humans are not that good at putting points together for this type of thing. 

Demerit points in which direction?

Look for instance at the demerit point system on the horizon, it seems to me like it is all about the penalty and not really the goal. For example, say someone is a good road user, never broke the law, and always kept clean or was just never caught, why is it that she doesn’t get more points? 

It’s quite interesting that the negative impacts of non-compliance with road rules is individual and collective, whereas the benefits are kept in the collective sphere and never really distributed to the individual. 

The main reason why this comes as a bit concerning is that the real world revolves around opposites: night-day, slow-fast, good-bad, and so on. Whereas, our new policy environment reads like an angry school principal who refuses to allow teachers to give children as many stars as they are doing well. 

Most parents would not take pleasure in taking children to a school that emphasises punishment and not rewards. Yet, we seem comfortable with policy principles that deduct tokens when bad behaviour occurs, and only adds them up to a certain limit. 

Perhaps it is one way to make sure that people operate in fear of getting caught and penalised, rather than with mutual respect for the roadway environment and those who use it. 

Penalise wrong doers or provide safer roads

It is close to the pedestrians’ and cyclists’ who must wear all kinds of equipment in order to be noticeable and protected, whereas they can’t hit a car and hurt the driver. Somehow, our policy principles read like a pocket turned inside-out—there’s just no room to be an exceptionally good road user with the ability to donate tokens to family in trouble.

In South Africa, some families really depend on their cars to get around, and do business. Yes, some road users make horrible mistakes which cost us the lives of children, friends and family members. Strong penalties are necessary to punish poor behaviour, but what about the good behaviour? 

Then again, we had a Road Accident Beneficially Scheme Bill in the pipeline which aimed to safeguard the wrong doers as much as the innocent – broadening the safety net. This one did not pass, but the policy principles remain a search for harmony between the pain of loss; pleasures of safe roadway environments and the risk of violating the law. 

Underlying this is perhaps the economics of prevention. Why have the policy principles around road safety, law enforcement and similar issues taken this static shape? 

Look at car insurance companies, most have noticed how vehicle insurance should be dependent on how much someone actually uses their vehicles. People are more likely to pay for something that reflects their behaviour, in addition to their generic profile as a starting point. This empowers people to change their behaviour because they know that they can be rewarded. 

Reward good behaviour as unexpected

Right now, what encourages wide spread acceptance? Well, the fact that we are all de-facto required to comply with the law, accept the merits we are given, and not ask for a more representative model. 

Whereas, the alternative principle would focus on prevention and take our traffic enforcement conversation into a different direction: road safety. 

That is to say, it would have focused on supporting municipalities to create safe roadway environments for people and vehicles. Then it would create incentives for road users to behave well. Lastly, it would penalise wrong doers. 

The whole point of policies like the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) is to decriminalise road traffic accidents, and to draw the line between collective and individual costs and benefits of roadway behaviour in a point system. 

However, right now it points to penalties and not so much to rewards. There is no pressure on road users to behave well in roadway environments, norms and circumstances that make it convenient to do the opposite, with little chance of getting caught. 

If the AARTO Act took the shape of an incentive scheme to use roadways better, and more safely for everyone, maybe people would want to get caught doing well as individuals, but with great benefit to everyone too. 

On the other hand, being a law abiding road user is expected, how much of a reward would make people behave exceptionally better, and safer on our roads? 

Thank you for reading.

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