Another deadline for expired driving licence cards extended, but it's not the answer

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A driver's licence. Image: Duncan Alfreds
A driver's licence. Image: Duncan Alfreds
Duncan Alfreds, News24

• Another extension for lockdown expired driving licence cards has been announced.

• Motorists who had licence expired from 26 March to 31 December 2020 has until March 2022 to renew.

• However, another extension is not a solution for the dire state of SA's licence system.

• For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24.

Interventions announced on Friday (27 August) by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to deal with problems relating to driving licence renewals are welcomed and indicate real progress in resolving challenges faced by motorists throughout the country.

The Automobile Association (AA) says the extension of the validity period of all licences to the end of March 2022 is also a welcome step, but that it remains concerned that the measures may not be implemented in time for those with expired documents to renew them. 

Minister Mbalula announced that all licences – learner's licences, driving licences, professional driving permits and temporary licences – which expired between 26 March 2020 and 31 August 2021 – will be valid until the end of March next year. 

Earlier this week, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) called on Mbalula to extend the deadline for renewing driving licences that expired between 26 March and 31 December 2020.

Outa said the government seems to be unmoved by the plight of thousands of motorists who have been battling to renew their driving licences. These motorists will be forced to disobey the law if government is unwilling to grant another extension on the deadline for renewal.

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The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) recently acknowledged that there is a significant backlog when it comes to the renewal of driving licences.

Outa, as well as Wheels24, have received numerous complaints from motorists, highlighting the frustration encountered when attempting to renew a driving licence, especially wih the online Natis system for Gauteng motorists. Frustrations with the licence renewal system have been around for a couple of years now and existed before the Covid-19 pandemic, although the pandemic certainly exacerbated the problem.

According to Outa, government has blamed the pandemic for the inefficiencies in the renewal process as well as motorists not renewing in time, but the real underlying problems of administrative inefficiencies existed prior to the pandemic. This includes an ineffective online booking system, broken eye testing and fingerprinting machines and corruption. This was made worse by Covid-19 lockdowns and reduced capacity in Driver Licence Testing Centres due to Covid-19 restrictions.

"We find it preposterous that government expect citizens to be law-abiding on driving licences when the very process they are expected to follow is defunct, ineffective and broken," says OUTA's CEO Wayne Duvenage.

Duvenage says that, in a modern world, governments are supposed to implement efficient processes that make it easier for citizens to comply with laws.

"Instead, our government seems unconcerned with the frustrations that motorists are experiencing when trying to book tests for new licences or for licence renewals." He adds that motorists cannot take the blame for gross inefficiencies that should have been addressed by the Department of Transport a long time ago.

The Minister noted a lack of capacity at Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs), corruption, the slow speed and unavailability of the National Traffic Information System (NaTIS), faulty live capture units (for fingerprints and ID verification), and faulty eye testing machines as the main challenges facing the centres in the provision of adequate services.

"We are naturally happy that many of the solutions we have been proposing for some have been considered. Among these is the establishment of more DLTCs, the introduction of mobile centres and kiosks at busy centres, extended operating hours of the DLTCs, the ability of DLTCs to accept online payments, and the submission of eye tests by optometrists directly to NaTIS. This all makes sense and will, hopefully, ease pressure on the system. But now it is all a question of implementation," notes the AA. 

In addition, the Minister also noted planned improvements to the online booking system in Gauteng - this has also been said for the past year, with absolute no change to the system. The AA says this is long overdue and must be done as a matter of urgency. 

According to Minister Mbalula, there is a backlog of 2.8 million licences which need to be renewed nationally but that only 1.2-million renewals have so far been processed. This means that 42% of licences must still be renewed. This is in addition to the motorists who require renewals which accrue monthly.

"The Minister again noted that the problem is not with motorists but with the DLTCs. This is significant as it acknowledges that the system is the problem, not motorists. The interventions he has announced must now be put in motion. Our concern is that the timeframes are tight, and that many motorists may be stranded without the necessary renewals, forcing yet another extension in March," the Association concludes.

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