A crisis is looming in South Africa as the deadline for the renewal of driving licences arrives tomorrow, 31 March, but with hundreds of thousands of drivers who have still not applied for their new cards.

The Automobile Association (AA) is again appealing to the Minister of Transport to reconsider government’s refusal to extend this deadline, and to make provision for a longer renewal period.

In August last year, Minister Fikile Mbalula announced that driving licences which expired between 26 March 2020 and 31 August 2021 will be valid until 31 March 2022. In February Minister Mbalula indicated that the total backlog of licences that will have expired by 31 March that have to be renewed stands at 2.1m nationally.

“Given the recent problems with the production of driving licence cards, and issues around Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs) and online booking systems, we believe it’s unrealistic to expect that this enormous backlog to be cleared by tomorrow; this leaves hundreds of thousands of drivers without the necessary documents to be on the road legally. Unless traffic law enforcement understands these issues – and finds a suitable way of addressing them – we may find a massive spike in the number of traffic fines issued to motorists in the next couple of weeks and months,” said AA.

In addition, motorists may find themselves negatively impacted from an insurance perspective if they are involved in crashes, said AA.

“Insurers may repudiate claims if motorists are driving with expired licences. Although those who have applied for new licences are covered through an extension of the validity of their licences, there are still many drivers who have not applied for renewed licences for various reasons beyond their control.

“Government’s priority should be to provide an environment conducive to renewing these documents, and to provide the necessary back-up systems to ensure timely production and delivery. This is currently not the case in the majority of DLTCs and is creating a situation that will, effectively, criminalise those who could not apply for renewals through no fault of their own.

“We are of the view that the only practical solution now is for government to further extend the renewal period, and to ensure all DLTCs and systems are geared to accommodate the backlogs. Failing this, motorists will unfortunately make the decision to drive illegally as they still must remain mobile, whatever the consequences. This is a situation which suits no-one in the country.”

Furthermore, extending the deadline will indicate a willingness by government to deal effectively with the current backlogs and will show that it understands the limitations of its current structures. Along with extending the deadline, government must now urgently finalise plans to extend the validity period of driving licences from five to ten years.

Minister Mbalula in February indicated that research is being conducted into extending the validity period of driving licence cards from the current five-year period. This research should now be completed and is, in our view, the most practical way forward. It’s now incumbent on government to implement this change as a pragmatic way of dealing with driving licence issues now and into the future

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