Big changes for driving licences in South Africa

 ·3 May 2023

The Department of Transports aims to roll out new digital driving licence cards in South Africa this financial year as it pushes towards greater virtualisation and automation of the Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA).

This, combined with previously announced plans, should make it quicker and easier to get and renew driving licences in the country – and they may also be valid for longer.

According to the department’s annual performance plan for the 2023/24 financial year, the digital driving licence is part of the longer-term goals to optimise driving licence production and reduce the turnaround time of producing and distributing licences by the DLCA.

Over the medium term – the next three years to 2025/2026 –  the department said it would prioritise the rollout of virtual cards among various other initiatives, like the automation of manual operations in the driving licence application environment.

The department noted that in 2022, the average processing time to issue a driving licence was 26 days. For 2023, it aims to bring this down to 14 days. By 2025, it aims to have licences processed in 10 days.

“Producing a driving licence card within five days is an achievable goal that requires us to work diligently in the service of our people,” the department said.

“Moving away from paper-based processes in our service delivery environment would enable us to drastically cut the turnaround times. This should include processing of applications for operating licences, tourist accreditations and other similar processes.”

New licences

Digital driving licences for South Africa were first mentioned by former transport minister Fikile Mbalula in 2022, when he announced that the department would officially launch the system in the 2024/25 financial year, with the card formally known as a mobile or electronic driver’s licence (eDL).

With the introduction of the eDL, motorists will have an option to apply for a physical card and electronic driver’s licence that will be accessible through a motorist’s mobile phone.

The DLCA has previously indicated that the introduction of an electronic licence is now possible due to increased mobile broadband penetration across the country.

The digital licence is expected to be preceded by the introduction of the new driving licence cardwhich is anticipated to be launched in 2023, including a new licence design.

A new driving licence card in South Africa will have improved security features, including biometric data, holograms, and watermarks, to reduce fraudulent licences and improve road safety.

The current driving licence cards will be phased out, with the printing machine that produces them being decommissioned in 2023.

A new system will be introduced with driving licence cards linked to smart-card technology. Mbalula confirmed at the end of 2022 that the department was working towards a pilot of the new licences between 1 November 2023 and 31 March 2024, while the extension of the validity of the cards was also coming.

The department previously suggested that the current five-year validity of driving licences could be extended to eight years. Current cards will continue to be recognised as valid until 31 March 2029.

Read: New laws for driving licence testing centres in South Africa are coming

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