Calls for validity of expired driver’s licences to be extended

The chaos at Driving Licence Test Centres (DLTCs) has led to calls for the validity of expired driver’s licence cards to be extended and a moratorium implemented to prevent motorists with expired driver’s licence cards from being fined.

There have also been calls for the validity period of driver’s licence cards to be extended from five to 10 years and for the renewal of driver’s licence cards to be outsourced to other entities.

Justice Project South Africa chair Howard Dembovsky said the situation at DLTCs “is a complete and utter disaster”.

“Chaos has ensued from shutting down the driving licence test centres for a whole two months and then expecting them to catch up the backlog of licences that expired during that period and licences that are yet to expire.

“Exacerbating the problem, certainly in Gauteng, is having this online booking system that does not work.”

Apart from motorists trying to pursue relief from the courts, there is “pretty much nothing motorists can do”, he added.

But Dembovsky said motorists need to bear in mind that just because their driver’s licence card has expired, it does not mean they are not licenced to drive.

“A driving licence card is not a driving licence. It’s proof that you hold a driving licence.

“So one can take comfort in that fact but the problem is that everybody is required to carry proof with them that they are currently licenced to drive. That is where the issue of having a current valid driver’s licence card comes in,” he said.

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula on July 22 extended the validity period of all learner’s licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that expired during the period from March 26 to August 31 for a further grace period up until the end of January 2021. Anyone whose driver’s licence expired in September 2020 and onwards is thus not covered by the grace period.

Urgent action required

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

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,” it said.

The AA added that the current system was broken even before the lockdown began but 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.

“What is most concerning is that there appears to be no acknowledgement of this by the authorities, nor any attempts to assist the public,” said the AA.

“We must be honest and admit that the current processes are, quite simply, shambolic,” it said.

Roadblocks set up to ‘ensnare’ motorists

The AA is particularly concerned 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, despite being aware there are few avenues for motorists to actually renew these documents.

It said it is not news to anyone that the online booking system is not functional, that 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.

Dembovsky advised motorists who have been fined for having expired driver’s licences to write to the public prosecutor in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act and cite the extension of the validity period as representing their lack of guilt in respect of the alleged offence.

In regard to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act, Dembovsky said motorists will have to fill in an Aarto 08 representation form and do the same thing.

‘Toughies,’ say the authorities

Dembovsky agreed that motorists whose driver’s licence expired in September 2020 are not covered by the driver’s licence validity extension but the attitude that has been adopted by the authorities is “toughies”.

“It creates ‘cannon fodder’ out of people who want to comply,” he said.

“One would hope that reasonableness will come into it somewhere but I’m rapidly starting to lose faith that reasonableness in fact amounts to anything in this country anymore.”

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The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) reported on Wednesday that it has written to Mbalula to ask him to consider changing the driver’s licence renewal process from five to 10 years for motorists between the ages of 18 and 65.

Dominique Msibi, portfolio manager at Outa’s Public Governance Division, said the organisation believes that both the state and its citizens would benefit from a formal extension of the driver’s licence period.

“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.

“The state is facing a growing crisis of legitimacy in its inability to address the backlog of driver’s licence renewals, which appears to be getting worse, not better,” she said.

“This in turn is spilling out into a crisis of administrative challenges that has the potential for citizens to be deemed as acting ‘outside the law’ when driving without a licence due to the state’s inefficiencies.”

Msibi said the formal extension to the period of applicability of driver’s licences to 10 years will alleviate the current pressures on the state to keep pace with the growing administrative demand while enabling the driver’s licence renewal administrative processes to be improved.

DLTCs need to prove themselves

Dembovsky believes there should be an extension to the validity of driver’s licences that expired after the commencement of the lockdown on March 26, regardless of what month that driver’s licence expires until the DLTCs can prove they have caught up the backlog and everything is running smoothly.

He said extending the validity period of driver’s licences to 10 years is “a good idea”, adding that former transport minister Dipuo Peters had published her intention to do this in about 2013 but nothing further happened.

He said there is also a good case for the renewal of driver’s licence cards to be outsourced to other entities – provided the institutions to which this function is outsourced “are above reproach”.