Minister faces reality and grants motorists a 15-day reprieve

We welcome the Minister's commitment to consider changing the five-year licence validity period

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01/04/2022 07:18:36

Minister faces reality and grants motorists a 15-day reprieve 

After weeks of ignoring the chaos and incompetence in his own department, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula faced reality and granted motorists with expired driver’s licence cards another 15-day grace period.

OUTA calls on the Minister to use this time to arrange a long-term solution to the licence cards problem.

OUTA urges motorists with expired or expiring licence cards to make every effort to apply for renewals as soon as possible.

According to the Ministry, there are 1 424 756 driving licence cards to which the grace period applies and for which renewal applications must still be made. It thus seems unlikely that the two-week extension will be sufficient.

“We are pleased the Minister has changed his mind and heeded the call from civil society to provide an extension,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s CEO, who has repeatedly called for the Minister to extend the deadline and provide a permanent solution by extending the validity of driving licence cards from five years to 10 years.

“We believe that two weeks may not be enough, but it will help alleviate pressure and reduce the number of applications for licence renewals in the system.

“We urge the Minister to engage with civil society and other stakeholders to address the impediments and design flaws that still exist within the on-line booking system.

“We furthermore urge the minister to make a decision on increasing the driver’s licence validity period from five to 10 years, which is common international practice and will go a long way to improving efficiency within government. The public should not have to go through this renewal process every five years.”

OUTA welcome the Minister's announcement that the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) has now been commissioned to do research on extending the validity period and the deadline of 30 April for this. We look forward to seeing what they find.

OUTA urges motorists to keep all documentation and evidence of applications to renew their driving licence cards and, where they have been unable to apply due to system failures, to document this too, in order to protect themselves.

The Minister’s notice of the extension was gazetted late on 31 March, the last day of the controversial deadline.

“All learner’s licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that expire during the period that commenced from 26 March 2020 up to and including 31 March 2022 are deemed to be valid and their validity periods are extended for a further grace period ending on 15 April 2022,” says the notice.

The extension includes not only the group who were previously granted an extension (those whose licences expired from 26 March 2020 to 31 August 2021) but also those whose licences expired after that, who were also caught up in the departmental inability to process licence applications and renewals.

The notice amends the directions previously issued by the Minister in terms of the Disaster Management Act in relation to Covid-19 measures.

Effectively, the Minister has enabled the extension by blaming Covid-19.

However, OUTA believes that the problems facing motorists are due to the incompetence, mismanagement and corruption in the Department of Transport which have been allowed to flourish for years.

Minister Mbalula has presided over these problems since May 2019. 

More than five years?

On 1 April, Minister Mbalula told OUTA on Twitter that the possibility of changing the validity period for driver's licence cards was being considered.

"We have commissioned the RTMC to undertake research on possible changes to  to the renewal time-frames. Various countries in the continent have renewal periods that range from 2 to 5 years and a number of other countries require renewal at anything from 6 to 15 years," he tweeted. "The research will look at the co-relation between the renewal period and safety on our roads and what factors should be taken into account if we are to revise the current 5-year validity period. This work is already underway and will be concluded by 30 April 2022."

OUTA is pleased to see that our ongoing calls for a 10-year licence and our meeting with the Minister on 10 March (see here) on this are being seriously considered and we look forward to seeing the results of this research. 

The driver’s licence chaos

OUTA has repeatedly called for the validity period of driving licence cards to be extended from five years to 10 years, due to the logistical difficulties in renewing them.

The situation in Gauteng – where a new electronic system is being used – has been untenable, as the system is frequently down or simply inaccessible to motorists, who must use it in order to secure bookings to apply for licences. Problems were made much worse nationally when the sole machine for printing driving licence cards broke down for months. The NaTIS system, which is the national backbone of the licencing system, is also frequently offline.

In another sign of chaos, the department has been unable or unwilling to provide clear statistics of the number of motorists who were left stranding with expired licence cards, waiting for replacements or unable even to apply for renewals.

“The driver’s licence renewal process has been in shambles for quite some time, and we patiently waited for government to sort out the mess they created. OUTA has pleaded with the Minister to extend the deadline on more than one occasion. We also suggested that licence cards should be valid for ten years instead of the current five, but to no avail,” says Advocate Stefanie Fick, OUTA Executive Director.

“Many motorists were unable to renew their licence cards through no fault of their own.”

“Enough is enough, especially since your driver’s licence never expires, and an expired licence card is something that government can easily prevent with proper planning and governance,” says Fick.

Added to the problem has been the legal uncertainty for motorists stuck with expired licence cards.

There has been no clarity from the Department of Transport on whether they would be fined for expired cards.

There were also concerns that vehicle insurance would not pay out if motorists with expired licence cards were involved in accidents.

The South African Insurance Association (SAIA) told OUTA that insurers would not automatically reject claims where a licence has expired for reasons beyond their control, such as the backlogs in processing licences. “To determines an equitable outcome, the insurer would need to demonstrate prejudice because of the failure to be in possession of a valid licence, therefore materiality is a critical factor for consideration,” SAIA told OUTA. A claim might be denied, for example, if the licence card expired five years ago and no plausible reasons could be provided for not renewing it.

The way forward

OUTA again calls on the Minister to extend the validity of licence cards to 10 years.

Those motorists still trying to apply for renewals or waiting for their new cards, should make every effort to keep proof of their applications or their failed attempts to apply.

Fick says with such documentation, motorists who are fined for expired licences after the new deadline expires would then be able to fight fines in court.

“Keep records of all your interactions with the department to show how you tried to renew your licence. For instance, take screenshots of notices on website informing you that it is offline or that all slots are fully booked and that you should try again later. Record the dates on which you tried, and take all receipts and paperwork to court,” says Fick.

The law stipulates that a person driving on a public road must have a driver’s licence and must have the  licence in their possession otherwise the driver will be guilty of an offence and liable for either a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year. However, it is unclear whether a person driving with an expired driver’s licence card is guilty of an offence. 

Motorists in the City of Johannesburg and the City of Tshwane fall under the provisions of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) (although this does not include the demerit system). Motorists fined under AARTO may choose to pay the fine, or challenge the fine in court, or make representations to the issuing authority.

For motorists fined outside the AARTO areas, the Criminal Procedure Act applies, which means the matter can be challenged in court.

OUTA urges motorists to ensure that they have their driver’s licence cards with them when driving, even if these have expired. Those who have started the renewal process should keep all receipts and the temporary licence on them.

OUTA also recommends that motorists with expired licences after the new deadline advise their insurance companies of this and check what their situation will be.

More information

The gazetted notice with the extension is here.

Soundclip and video clip
A soundclip with comment by OUTA's Advocate Stefanie Fick is here and a video clip is here.

Picture: OUTA