Change driver’s license renewal process from 5 to 10 years: Outa

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has called on transport minister Fikile Mbalula, to consider changing the driver’s license renewal process from five to 10 years.

It comes amid a backlog of vehicle licence discs renewals caused by Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown period in South Africa, lasting more than five months.

“We believe that both the state and its citizens would benefit from a formal extension of the DL period of applicability from the current five year period to one of 10 years,” said Dominique Msibi, portfolio manager at Outa’s Public Governance Division.

“This should save the SA consumer and government time and money as well as improve the administration and manageability of the renewal process by the state.”

Outa proposed the following to the minister of transport:

  • That an extension for driver’s license renewal be applied from 5 to 10 years;
  • The extension from 5 to 10 years applies between the ages of 18 to 65 years;
  • That more efficient online application processes for DL renewals precedes the actual renewal, to allow for more effective service delivery and flow between appointment, eye test and licence delivery;
  • Multiple methods for DL renewal are made available through test centres and reputable service providers, i.e. stronger collaboration with neutral, third party organisations such as the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA);
  • That current restrictions applicable to Professional Driver’s Permits either remain the same, or are possibly extended as well, but that this decision be based on more extensive research and the inclusion of input from bussing and tourism role players.

“The state is facing a growing crisis of legitimacy in its inability to address the backlog of DL renewals, which appears to be getting worse, not better. This in turn is spilling out into a crisis of administrative challenges that has the potential for citizens to be deemed as not acting ‘outside the law’, when driving without a license, due to the state’s inefficiencies,” Msibi said.

“The extension of the grace period for ‘expired’ DL is becoming the norm. We believe there will be no adverse impact on the lives of South Africans in the case of extending DL renewal to 10-years,” Msibi said.

In its research, Outa compared the South African process of DL renewals with best practice internationally. The study looked at the following:

  • Maximum period required before renewal of the driver’s license;
  • Methods available to renew the driver’s license;
  • Old age restrictions, demerit system and other regulations applicable;
  • Concessions made and to be improved for pregnant and disabled drivers;
  • Costs to renew driver’s license.

Outa said that while the current backlog highlights the need for improved efficiencies in the administration of DL renewals, “we sincerely believe it is time for South Africa to introduce formal extensions to the period of applicability to 10 years (as opposed to the current period of 5-years), as is done in many countries around the world”.

This in turn will alleviate the current pressures on the state to keep pace with the growing administrative demand, as well as enable the DL renewal administrative processes to be improved, it said.

The Automobile Association (AA) meanwhile, said that a moratorium on fining motorists without renewed driving licences must be implemented as a matter of urgency, and that immediate steps be taken to fix the current renewal processes.

“The current system was broken even before the lockdown began. Now, with thousands of anxious motorists struggling to renew their driving licence cards for a variety of reasons, the failures of the system are being exposed even more.

“And, what is most concerning, is that there appears to be no acknowledgement of this by the authorities, nor of any attempts to assist the public. We must be honest and admit that the current processes are, quite simply, shambolic,” said the AA.

The association said of particular concern is that the already under resourced and inadequately staffed traffic law enforcement authorities are setting up roadblocks to ensnare motorists with expired driving licence cards and vehicle licence discs, even though they are aware that there are few avenues for motorists to actually renew these documents.

All the while, more serious violations are not being dealt with because traffic law enforcement officers are focussing on soft targets.

“It’s an absurd situation where motorists cannot renew their discs or cards, and are then stopped and fined for not having done so. It’s not news to anyone that the online booking system is not functional, that Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs) are open erratically and under-staffed, and that online networks at DLTCs are also often down, all of which result in motorists being unable to renew their cards.

“The only people who don’t seem to acknowledge these issues are the authorities and it’s the motorists who ultimately suffer,” the AA said.

In addition to placing the moratorium on fines, the AA said it has now become more than critical that alternatives to the current renewals processes are implemented.

“Not only must third party agents such as the AA be allowed to renew driving licence cards, but the current system needs a dramatic overhaul, and quickly. There can be no doubt that the current way of doing business must change, and change now,” the AA said.

It said that calls by the Outa to extend the validity of driving licences from five to 10 years makes sense provided motorists have their eyes tested by registered professionals at least every five years to ensure their vision is good enough to remain safe on the road.

It suggests that these eye tests are also carried by motorists and presented to authorities when asked to do so.

But, the AA said, increasing the validity of licences from five to 10 years must run parallel to ensuring the current system is improved and updated.

“Motorists must be able to easily renew their vehicle licence discs and driving licence cards, through a system which is responsive and available, and which actually works,” the AA said.

Read: D-Day for expired vehicle discs in South Africa

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Change driver’s license renewal process from 5 to 10 years: Outa