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HomeNewsBig blow to longer driver’s licences in South Africa

Big blow to longer driver’s licences in South Africa

The High Court in Pretoria yesterday dismissed civil rights group AfriForum’s application that the regulation around the expiry of driver’s licences should be revised, meaning that driving licence cards in South Africa will only remain valid for five years for the foreseeable future.

The group approached the courts in August, arguing that the regulations limiting the validity period of a licence card conflict with the terms of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), which determines that South Africa’s licences can never expire.

Consequently, it sought that the court declare that fines and penalties related to driver’s licences only apply to individuals driving without a valid licence, either because they do not have one or because it was suspended or cancelled.

Alternatively, the civil rights group wanted the section of the NRTA that gives the minister unrestricted powers to determine the expiration of driver’s cards to be declared unconstitutional and invalid.

However, the application was dismissed on a technicality, said AfriForum Campaign Officer Louis Boshoff, and the group’s legal team is investigating the possibility of appealing.

“The application was heard on 8 August and the verdict was announced [on 30 October],” said Boshoff.

“According to Judge AJ Strijdom’s judgment, AfriForum should have brought the application within 180 days after the regulation was issued 23 years ago and is therefore not admissible.”

AfriForum still contends that the NRTA is contrary to the 5-year validity period and leaves no room for a regulation that stipulates that licence cards expire.

“The decision is a slap in the face of responsible drivers in South Africa,” said Boshoff.

“This court ruling validates the Department of Transport’s (DoT) licence to underperform, which never expires. The department is unable to issue licence cards on time, but law-abiding citizens are then fined for it.”

The group said it has received several complaints from individuals who do not receive their renewed cards from the DoT on time, resulting in them being fined despite every effort to remain legally licenced.

In addition, the department’s card printer has often broken down in recent years and licences are seemingly expiring faster than new ones are printed.

“It is unfortunate that on a technical point, the court refused condonation for the ‘late’ filing of the review application instead of dealing with the merits of the case. The contradiction in the law is obvious,” said Boshoff.

Tender document purportedly showing South Africa’s new licence card

8-year driver’s licences a possibility

In August, current minister of transport Sindisiwe Chikunga said she would take the proposal to extend the validity period for driver’s licences to eight years in South Africa to Cabinet before any other proposal on her desk.

While still subject to approval, the introduction of the longer validity period is expected to coincide with the launch of the country’s new licence cards, which DoT spokesman Collen Msibi said is scheduled to happen within “this financial year” – i.e. before the end of March 2024.

The new licence is starting with a pilot project that will run for four months to assess any shortcomings, and thereafter it will be introduced to the entire country. The transition period from the old to the new card is expected to take around five years.

Alongside the new card, the DoT said it will procure several new printers to replace the single, ageing machine it currently employs, of which South Africa is the last country in the world to use.

The printer had at least three breakdowns in the past 18 months, causing massive renewal backlogs and leading to many motorists having to drive around every day with an expired licence through no fault of their own.

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