New driving licences coming soon to South Africa – these are the big changes

 ·19 Jul 2023

The new driver’s licence card coming to South Africa is planned to start its pilot in November 2023, and while there are some nuanced visual changes, the big changes will come in the form of new technologies and improved security features.

According to the Department of Transport (DOT) – following the pilot period – the new driving licences will be launched to the public before the end of the current financial year, putting the launch window sometime before the end of March 2024.

The country’s current driving licence cards have been in use since 1998 and feature a greyscale image of the holder, a signature on the front while displaying a barcode, and their fingerprint on the back as personal security indicators.

The barcode stores 710 bytes of data, and included in this is all information relevant to
the license – such as initials, surname, identity number, driver’s license number, date of issue,
expiration date, etc. Also included in the barcode is the photograph of the bearer.

Other notable security features on the current driver’s license include a watermark of the king protea (also the theme for the background of the card), micro printing, and a reflective security trip across the front of the card that reads ‘South Africa’.

Old card – Front:


The DOT noted that the current licence cards will be phased out over the next six years as they no longer meet international technology standards.

This is particularly notable as South Africa currently only has one printing machine, which has suffered several breakdowns, causing severe backlogs in issuing licences.

The single machine used by the department’s Driver’s Licence Card Account (DLCA) division to print the cards is also slated for decommissioning by the end of 2023 and will be replaced with a new machine capable of producing the updated card.

New driver’s licence card

According to the DLCA, the new licence will be aligned closer to international practices, with the new card also allowing for the incorporation of new technologies.

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

Tender documents published in November 2021 reveal how the new card should look.

The front of the card will display the driver’s name, gender, date of birth, ID number, and information about the license, such as issuance date, code, license number, and validity period – much like the old one.

A photo of the licence holder will be shown on the front of the card, along with their signature.

The card body will be made from 100% polycarbonate material with specifically designed security elements, as stated in the tender documents.

The more significant changes then come with the enhanced security features, such as a secondary image of the licence holder’s face will be engraved during the personalisation process, while micro text and tactile features will also be included.

A security background will also overlap with the image of the licence holder, and the card’s serial number will be printed in barcode format on the reverse side – which also includes a QR code and a ghost image.

In addition to its updated design, the new driver’s license will have a longer validity period of eight years instead of the current five, reducing the frequency of DLTC visits for motorists.

Old card – Front:


Digital driving licences

A new system will also be introduced along with the new physical driving licence cards, linked to smart-card technology.

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 the option to apply for a physical card and electronic driver’s licence that will be accessible through a motorist’s mobile phone.

The department plans to roll out virtual cards and automate driving license application processes over the next three years until 2025/26.

Read: How South Africa’s new driving demerit system will work

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