The further extension to the validity period of driving licences that expired during the Covid-19 lockdowns has been widely welcomed, but doubts have been expressed about the ability of other measures announced to reduce the massive driving licence renewal backlog.
Automobile Association (AA) spokesperson Layton Beard said the extension of the validity period of all licences to the end of March 2022 is a welcome step, but the AA remains concerned that the measures may not be implemented in time for those with expired documents to renew them.
“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 2022,” he said.
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said the organisation does not believe Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula had any choice but to extend the validity of driving licences.
However, he pointed out that the backlog and the wave of people who need to renew their expired licences is increasing.
“You are giving a six-month extension to people who haven’t got their licences renewed, some of them for as long as six months or a year back, which creates a snowball effect. The wave just gets bigger,” said Duvenage.
“It’s a bit of a nightmare and we hope they tackle the underlying issues.
“If they don’t fix the corruption, the inefficiencies, the poor service delivery, the equipment – and a combination of so much more – we will be sitting here in March 2022 with the same problem,” he said.
Beard said the total 13.5 million vehicle licence holder population must renew their licences every five years, which means that apart from any backlog, 2.7 million driving licence holders have to renew their licences each year.
However, Mbalula said on Friday: “We believe that in the time frame we have set for ourselves, we should be in a position to have addressed all the backlogs that we are actually facing in the system.”
Grace amid the mess
Mbalula announced that all learner’s licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that expire during the period that commenced from March 26, 2020 up to and including August 31, 2021 “are deemed to be valid and their validity periods are extended for a further grace period ending on March 31, 2022”.
He confirmed that nationally, 42.4% or 1.2 million licences have not yet been renewed out of a total of 2.8 million that have expired since March 26, 2020.
Mbalula said Gauteng accounts for the highest number of licences that have not yet been renewed, at 437 819 out of a total of 980 038 of those that expired in this period.
“We remain concerned at this high backlog as it adversely impacts on effective law enforcement,” said Mbalula.
“We are, however, more concerned about the reasons that give rise to this state of affairs.”
According to the minister, these include:
Capacity challenges that put tremendous pressure on driving licence test centres (DLTCs) in processing renewals of driving licences.
Corruption of officials entrusted with the system, where online booking is used, who block slots and sell these to those prepared to pay bribes.
Slow speed and unavailability of the eNatis (Electronic National Administration Traffic Information) system, causing frustrations for officials and motorists renewing their licences.
Faulty live capture units resulting in long queues at DLTCs.
Faulty eye-testing equipment.
Delays in validating fingerprints as live capture units are not linked to the Department of Home Affairs in real time.
Mbalula stressed that the further extension was prompted by the realisation that the problem of motorists driving around when their licences have expired is largely not a problem caused by motorists but “a problem with the system”.
“The most important thing is to change the driver’s licence regime.
“It has not collapsed but I will not lie to you, it’s a mess,” said Mbalula.
“It’s something that is easy to fix and we must fix. I use the word ‘reboot’.”
Tackling the problems
Mbalula announced a number of interventions to resolve the capacity and other issues at DLTCs.
He said Gauteng poses the biggest challenge because of the large population of motorists, and the fact that it remains the only province that has extensively deployed the online booking system.
Specific actions have been identified to tackle challenges specific to Gauteng, including the non-availability of online booking slots to those who intend to renew their licences.
Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) CEO Makhosini Msibi said challenges to the online booking system in Gauteng were caused by corruption at DLTCs, “no-shows” by people who had booked slots at more than one DLTC, and the closure of DLTCs because of Covid-19 related issues.
To deal with corruption and the selling of booking slots, Msibi said the slots will be centralised online and released by the RTMC – and not the DLTCs – from September 1 “to take out the human element”.
He said a punitive measure for “no-shows” for booking slots will be introduced, with “no-shows” forfeiting the money they paid online to secure the slot.
Gauteng MEC of Roads and Transport Jacob Mamabolo said the province appointed a forensic investigation company to deal with corruption at DLTCs a month ago.
He said the province has given the investigation company “a good period to go deep into this matter”.
“We have said to the investigators that they must act on every case once they have concluded it and they [must] have evidence that can stand the test of scrutiny,” said Mamabolo.
“They shouldn’t wait to complete in six months and release a report.”
Other measures announced to deal with the backlog at DLTCs include:
Increasing DLTC capacity by opening two DLTCs operated by the RTMC at Waterfall Park in Midrand and Eco Park in Centurion on October 1; these will operate seven days a week from 7am to 9pm, adding 35 380 renewal slots per month and increasing Gauteng capacity for renewal slots by 48%.
The activation of an email service for Gauteng users who experience difficulties with online bookings and renewing their licences.
The establishment of a new DLTC in Tembisa, which opened its doors in July.
The fitting out by the RTMC of two buses with state-of-the-art equipment to serve as mobile centres to assist with licence renewals; these are planned to be deployed in Diepsloot and Alexandra on October 1.
The introduction of online payments through a banking partner.
Plans to extend the operating hours of DLTCs, with the operating hours of large registering authorities and DLTCs in seven of the nine provinces already extended to include Saturday.
A plan to enable motorists to make use of private optometrists who will have the authority to upload eye test results directly to the eNatis system.
The completion of an interface of live enrolment units with Home Affairs, which will enable immediate validation of fingerprints and address a challenge that has been a cause for delays.
Addressing the shortage of end-user equipment at DLTCs.