Every week I plan to write about something else, but the expired licencing issue is becoming a horrible mess. We're into the first week of July, an entire month has passed since Lockdown Level 3 has been implemented, and so many motorists are still feeling helpless regarding licence renewals.
And so am I, have been for the past few weeks because I no longer have straight answers to give our overburdened readers.
South Africans have been told that vehicle, learner's or driving licences which have expired during the period of 26 March to 31 May 2020 will have a 90-day grace period.
Motorists want to renew their driving licences and their vehicle licences, yet many are unable to do so. Booking appointments on the National Traffic Information System seems to be an impossible feat, while many driving licence testing centres remain closed due to Covid-19 contamination cases.
Most motorists have comorbidities or compromised immune systems or are high-risk candidates who can't afford the chance of becoming a victim of Covid-19. No one can.
I have resorted to sharing the details of third party small businesses who do vehicle licence renewals for motorists. This is an alternative solution for many citizens who are in transit overseas, or unable to travel between provinces, or who are too ill to leave the safety of their homes. But, what do I tell those who need to renew their driving licences as this needs to be done in person due to biometrics?
What do I tell those readers who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or who are over the age of 60 who physically can't afford to stand in these queues?
My driver's licence has also expired during the lockdown, and since centres have reopened - two of the DLTCs in my area have been closed, twice, due to infections, and has not yet reopened. Some centres are also only assisting the first 100 people during weekdays and only 50 on Saturdays. And, motorists stand in long queues from as early as 4:00 in some areas — all in vain. I too have a compromised immune system, nor will I take my young child along with me to stand in long queues, only to be turned away.
Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
People can't afford to take off work several days to have their licences renewed because they don't reach the front of the line. Then there's the issue of young people who have expired learner's licences who are being told to start the process all over as only those who have lockdown expired licences are being prioritised. As if people have money lying around to redo this.
Covid-19 numbers are constantly on the rise, and we have not yet hit peak statistics. I don't see the situation getting any better within the next six to seven weeks, and many motorists will be left being on the road illegally as the AA predicts.
I also foresee a massive influx come end of August as most motorists are likely to wait until the last minute to do renewals and this problem will be even worse.
Yet, no Gauteng residents are able to book any appointments due to the backlog and overwhelming number of motorists visiting the site.
Earlier this week the Automobile Association (AA) called on Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to extend the validity of all licences beyond the 30 August deadline, or face a situation where many thousands of motorists do not have the necessary legal driving documents, the company said.
In the letter to the Minister's office on Monday (29 June), AA CEO Willem Groenewald wrote: "Any licences which expire in June or July may have an immediate 21-day grace period, but there are problems which make it difficult for these drivers to renew licences within that time." He says the current National Traffic Information System (NaTIS) continues to be problematic, including the lack, or limited availability, of slots. He also notes that some centres may still be closed as a result of Covid-19 infections among staff.
"Our experience is that the majority of drivers in South Africa prefer to remain compliant with the regulations and to be on the road legally. Although the system is often problematic, drivers take the necessary steps to ensure they stay within the law.
"However, given the current constraints on the system, many are faced with the real possibility that they may not be able to do this," Groenewald says.
The AA has called for a further extension beyond the end of August to the end of January 2021, which it says it a more feasible option.
I only have faith and hope now that Minister Mbalula heeds our calls and will review the severity of this dire situation, and will extend the licence renewal period until the end of January 2021.
Janine Van der Post is the first female editor at Wheels24. You can email her here with any licence queries.
Image: Calvin Fisher