What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?

For most of us, our cars and trucks are one of life’s basic necessities. We need them to get to work, go to the shops, transport goods, and do a million other things in between. Naturally, this has led to an insane amount of vehicles being bought and sold around the world and the number just keeps going up. But this raises a few questions – What are the safety regulations for vehicles in South Africa? How do I know if my car is safe and what happens if I don’t meet the requirements? What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?

There is a seemingly endless list of requirements for vehicles in South Africa that must be met to ensure that a vehicle is operating legally. That said, when buying a vehicle, the vast majority of this work is done by the manufacturer/importer with only a few extra steps requiring the buyer’s time and effort.

Unfortunately, when you have an estimated 1,4 billion vehicles on the road globally, you’re also going to end up with a lot of collisions and injuries. This fact provides an incredible incentive for governments to regulate the safety of the vehicles that are used within their borders and ensure that their streets are as safe as they can possibly be.

What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?
What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?

Compulsory Specifications

The primary requirements for a legal vehicle are provided by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications Act. Before a car may be offered for sale in South Africa, these minimum standards have to be met, usually by the manufacturer or the importer. These standards are extensive and cover almost everything that you’d expect to see in a modern-day vehicle. They include, but are not limited to, –

  • Lights
  • Windscreens
  • Brakes
  • Seats
  • Safety Belts
  • Airbags

Additionally, the Act also highlights the basic safety standards that must be met by each of these components. For example, headlights need to reach a certain distance and angle before they can be accepted.

Ownership Requirements

Luckily, when buying a vehicle, you won’t have to double-check all these features to ensure that your car is up to scratch. That said, there is still some work to do before you can drive legally. Most notably, when buying a vehicle (new or used) you will need to license it, register it, and ensure its roadworthiness.

Please note that a roadworthiness test isn’t just a quick checkup that you can do in your driveway before going to work. You need to approach a registered testing station and receive a roadworthiness certificate.

What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?
What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?

What are the Penalties for Not Meeting Safety Requirements?

One of the primary factors influencing potential penalties will be whether or not you find yourself within AARTO jurisdiction. Some South Africans are still governed under the older enforcement system and can thus expect the usual punishments such as warnings, fines, and arrests.

On the other hand, those who are now within an AARTO area can expect similar results, however, they may also end up with a certain number of demerit points. Get enough of those and you may even lose your licence.

Most safety requirement failings will result in minor fines and/or demerit points. Things like missing seatbelts or defective speedometers can normally cost you a couple of hundred bucks, however, driving a vehicle without a roadworthiness certificate can cost you much more.

Can I sit at the Back of a Truck for Transport?

For the most part, yes, you can. That said, there are many instances in which this practice could be illegal, so it’s important to go through the dos and don’ts in some detail –

Seating is important – Regulation 247 of the National Road Traffic Regulations highlights the specific parameters of such a vehicle with regards to how enclosed the passengers need to be. This means that the following practices are all illegal –

  • Sitting on the side railings of a bakkie.
  • Standing in the back of a bakkie unless the individual is properly enclosed as stated in the aforementioned regulations.
  • Sitting on items like chairs or cabinets that have been placed in the back of a bakkie.
  • Transport may not be done for a reward – Simply put, you can transport people in the goods compartment of a vehicle (ie, the back of a bakkie), however, you cannot charge money or request some other remuneration for this service. In other words, you can give someone a lift in the back of your truck, but you can’t start using your truck as a makeshift bus.
  • Watch the Weight – Overloading a vehicle is against the law and placing too many passengers in the back of your truck can put you over the limit.

Obviously, there is a huge risk involved when transporting people in the goods compartments of a vehicle as those sections are usually devoid of safety equipment such as seatbelts and airbags. This has led to many children in South Africa losing their lives each year as they are transported to school in this manner.

Unfortunately, even when passengers are transported in an illegal manner, the laws are seldom enforced.

What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?
What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?

What is the Law on Number Plates?

The rules regarding number plates are surprisingly complex and many South Africans often fall victim to related violations without any intention on their part. The National Road Traffic Act describes all the necessary requirements ranging from the allowed size, the design, the way in which it must be affixed to the vehicle, and even the background graphics applicable for each province.

Number plates must be clearly visible at all times and violations can result in fines. In some instances, you may even be ordered to immediately remove a licence plate that does not meet requirements.

Licence plates may be one of three acceptable sizes –

  • 520mm x 113 mm
  • 250mm x 205 mm
  • 250mm x 165 mm

In special circumstances, two different sized plates may be used at each end of a vehicle, this is due to the fact that some cars and trucks only have space for certain sizes on the front and other sizes on the back.

Other general parameters for licence plates include, but are not limited to

  • Number plates registered on or after the 1st of January 2010 must be attached using either 4mm rivets or 4mm one way self-tapping screws.
  • Personalized number plates may not include vulgar language or offensive numbers.
  • Only numbers and letters are allowed. You may not include certain symbols such @, %, $, etc.
  • Any background designs other than the official provincial background designs are illegal.

In Conclusion – What does the Law say about Vehicle Safety and Regulations?

Almost all vehicles in South Africa have to fulfil various prerequisites before they can be considered ‘legal’. Most primary conditions are met by the distributors/importers and involve things like properly installing the lights, electronics, windows, and safety devices. When purchasing a vehicle, most of us just need to worry about far more limited safety criteria.

What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?
What is the Law on Vehicle Safety and Regulations?

Most people simply need to ensure that their vehicle is licenced, registered, and certified for roadworthiness before they can begin operating it legally. Roadworthiness does not involve checking the vehicle yourself and individuals must instead seek out the services of a registered testing station.

Of course, various aspects of your car/truck/bike will deteriorate over time and drivers must ensure that they properly maintain their vehicles or they could be at risk of incurring certain penalties. If, for example, your headlights are out of order, you will need to have them fixed or you may be fined by a law enforcement officer.

Some parts of your vehicle may be held to higher standards than others. Notably, your licence plates must fall within very specific parameters or they will be considered invalid. Lastly, some common practices on the road are, in reality, highly dangerous and oftentimes illegal. For example, while travelling in the goods compartments of a vehicle (ie, the back of a bakkie), passengers must ensure that they are properly and safely enclosed or they may end up travelling in an illegal and hazardous manner. Standing up in the back of a bakkie or sitting on the side railings is illegal as is the practice of charging the passengers of such vehicles a fee for their transport.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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