It appears unlikely there will be a further extension to the validity period of driving licences that expired during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
This is despite a current backlog of 534 807 driving licences in the system and protests at Driving Licence Test Centres (DLTCs) reportedly leading to the closure of more than 10 DLTCs in Gauteng.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Monday urged those motorists whose driving licences have expired to renew their licences and not wait for the last moment as “the final deadline” of the grace period approaches. The grace period applies to those whose driving licences expired between March 26 2020 and August 31 2021.
He said those who are not covered by the grace period and whose licence cards have already expired will also have to apply for a temporary driving licence (in addition to the actual licence renewal).
The Automobile Association (AA) has however urged the government to extend the deadline for “another month or two” in the interests of keeping motorists legitimate.
Mbalula said the Department of Transport (DoT) remains on track to clear the renewal backlog.
“The backlog, which only relates to those who have lodged renewal applications, currently stands at 534 807,” he said.
Mbalula added that as at February 25, they had produced 401 131 driving licence cards. This presumably refers to the period since January 20, the day on which production of driving licence cards by the Driving Licence Card Account resumed after the damaged component in the card-producing machine was fixed.
The machine broke down on November 7 2021 because of a power surge caused by flooding from an adjacent building.
Mbalula said on February 3 there was a backlog as at February 1 of 597 492 renewal applications awaiting the printing of cards but that this would be cleared by April.
However, Mbalula said at the time there was a total backlog of 2.1 million driving licences nationwide that will have expired by March 31 that have yet to be renewed.
Online services now live
On Monday the minister said that with the introduction of online services, motorists can now book their slots online and proceed to make payment online.
Mbalula said the online services should result in shorter queues and motorists spending less time at DLTCs.
“The online booking and payment not only ensures a predictable number of people visiting the DLTC at any given time, but also eliminates one more queue the motorist would have had to stand in.
“These therefore allow a more efficient allocation of resources to dramatically cut down the length of time a person spends at DLTC.
“In the 16 days since the online system went live, a total of 3 641 transactions were successfully processed with a monetary value of R2 128 751,” he said.
Gauteng accounts for the highest number of transactions at 1 827, followed by KwaZulu-Natal at 558 and Western Cape at 459 transactions, he said.
Mbalula was commenting during a visit to the Akasia and Sandton DLTCs on Monday to assess the impact of the DoT’s interventions and determine if these interventions are translating into tangible improvements for motorists.
Mbalula was confronted by protesters from driving schools, who were complaining about the online booking system and called for the system to be scrapped.
However, Road Traffic Management Agency CEO Makhosini Msibi claimed the online system “is functional 24/7”.
Mbalula and Gauteng MEC for Public and Roads Infrastructure Jacob Mamabolo were later on Monday reportedly locked in discussions with representatives of driving schools about the protests.
AA spokesperson Layton Beard said there have been many different issues that have resulted in the driving licence renewal backlogs and every effort must be made to keep motorists on the road legally.
Beard said the AA believes motorists are “owed a bit more of a breather” because a lot of people have been unable to renew their driving licence because of a variety of issues, including the protests at DLTCs.
However, Beard said the AA wanted to remind motorists that there is an obligation on them to be proactive in terms of renewing their driving licence.
“We understand that there are challenges and not everybody has access to online services and not everybody can go to a DLTC in Centurion or Midrand.
“These may be issues that many people cannot overcome and government needs to make provision for this. You cannot single out individual drivers, so it would mean that there needs to be a blanket extension,” he said.
Beard said the AA has received mixed reviews of the new online booking system, with many people complimentary about it while others say it’s not working for them and there are issues, specifically in terms of making bookings.
He said the service provided at DLTCs needs to be consistent throughout the country and questioned why the service levels and resources available at the new-model DLTCs in Centurion and Midrand cannot be replicated at all other DLTCs.
Beard said reports the AA has received indicated that driving schools are protesting because the DLTCs no longer accept any block bookings, they cannot access the system properly, specific online functions should be open only to driving schools, and they want the National Traffic Information System (Natis) scrapped.