Bad news for driving licences in South Africa

 ·4 Jun 2024

The extension of South Africa’s driver’s licence to eight or even ten years has been in the pipeline for years, but it seems the government is dropping the idea, and experts believe this is the wrong call.

Former minister of transport, Fikile Mbalula, noted near the end of 2022 that South Africa would be getting new driver’s licences to align with international standards.

This was then confirmed by acting minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, who said the new licences would have improved security features, including biometric data, holograms, and watermarks, to reduce fraudulent licences and improve road safety.

The Department of Transport (DoT) also mentioned the new physical driving licence cards would be linked to smart card technology.

This digital card would be formally known as a mobile or electronic driver’s licence (eDL).

During the discussions about this new driver’s licence, the DoT further stated that the validity period of the licences would be extended to eight years instead of five.

This was decided following research commissioned by the department, which found that the average renewal period across 35 countries was 8.5 years.

In 2023, Chikunga said the research and proposal to extend the validity period would be tabled for approval by the cabinet “soonest”.

However, it seems the government has decided to ditch these plans, citing health concerns as the main reason.

Speaking to Moneyweb, both Chikunga and Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) CEO Makhosini Msibi confirmed that the proposal to extend the validity period to eight years was not presented to the cabinet for approval.

Msibi said that in the current situation in South Africa, the time frame specifically concerns the health of the driver, including an eye test to verify their vision.

“So it remains critical that we maintain that process [the current validity period] until all these issues have been dealt with”.

Msibi confirmed the validity period of driving licences will remain five years for the foreseeable future.

Poor excuse

In response to the DoT’s decision, Automobile Association (AA) spokesperson Layton Beard told BusinessTech that he is disappointed.

“We are firm in our view that extending the validity is the right thing to do.

“There is no disadvantage to the system of having a longer validity period, but there is a major benefit to the motorists for having a longer validity period,” he said.

He explained that the extension would reduce motorists’ costs while alleviating pressure on the system, which has experienced major backlogs.

He also said that, while the AA acknowledges the importance of monitoring the driver’s health and ability, you can easily get eye tests done off-site (optician) and carry the certificate in your car instead of having to go through the entire licence renewal process.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) agreed with the AA and believes that increasing the validity period would help address the renewal system’s inefficiencies and reduce motorists’ costs.

Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage criticized the decision not to extend the period as “ludicrous,” especially considering the administration and costs associated with the process.

He also mentioned that the decision could have also been motivated by the fact that extending the validity period is a revenue issue for the government.

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