File picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency/ANA.

Johannesburg - It’s something that many motorists could identify with. You’re pulled over at a roadblock, asked for your licence and all seems fine until you realise that, in the hustle bustle of your daily life, your card expired without you realising it.

In fact even those that did make an effort to renew in time are not immune, given the recent delay in card issuance due to a strike at the company that makes them.

But what now?

While the officer will almost certainly hand out a fine, the actual legislation surrounding expired licence cards is a bit murky.

Thankfully, if you get into an accident before your card is renewed, your insurance should still be valid, although it is always best to check your terms and conditions to be certain. Justice Project SA head Howard Dembovsky believes that any insurance company that tries to challenge a claim on the basis of an expired card could find themselves in trouble if taken to court, as technically your licence never expires, unless it is cancelled or suspended.

The SA Insurance Association’s Zakes Sondiyazi said each case would be treated on its own merits, but ideally, an expired driving licence was not sufficient reason for an insurer to repudiate a claim.

But is it actually an offence?

Jakkie Olivier, chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), said that the topic of whether it is an offence to drive with an expired drivers licence card was recently raised by one of its members.

The topic was reported on in Automobil magazine by Roxanne Paans, a candidate attorney in the litigation department at Barnard Incorporated in Centurion.

She refers to the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) 93 of 1996 which states that the period of validity of a driving licence shall be indefinite, unless such a licence has been suspended or cancelled in terms of the Act.

“The confusion is created by the fact that the NRTA does not seem to clearly differentiate between a driving licence and a driving licence card,” she says.

The NRTA and The National Road Traffic Act Regulations, are two important pieces of legislation, which regulate the rules of the roads in South Africa.

Your licence doesn't actually expire

“According to the Regulations, a driving licence card shall expire five years from the date on which it was ordered from the card production facility. The Regulations make no mention of the expiration of a driving licence, but expressly state that the validity of a driving licence shall be indefinite.

“The uncertainty therefore created by the Regulation is whether the expiration of a driving licence card also leads to the expiration of a driving licence,” she explains.

“What’s interesting, however, is that Regulation 108 (5)(b) states that ‘The holder of a driving licence card may apply for a new card in the manner contemplated in regulation 109 and the new card shall be authorised and issued in the manner contemplated in regulation 109(3)’.

“The word ‘may’ suggests that the holder of a driving licence has a choice as to whether to renew the card or not. The regulations furthermore do not expressly state that it is an offence if a holder of a driving licence fails to renew the driving licence card,” says Paans.

But hang on a minute..

The closest indication that the driving of a motor vehicle with an expired driving licence card constitutes an offence in terms of the NRTA is found in section 12 which says: ‘12 No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a public road - (a) except under the authority and in accordance with the conditions of a licence issued to him or her in terms of this Chapter or of any document deemed to be a licence for the purposes of this Chapter; and (b) unless he or she keeps such licence or document or any other prescribed authorisation with him or her in the vehicle.’

“The NRTA and its Regulations does not expressly state whether a driving licence card is a ‘document deemed to be a licence’. It seems that there is no express indication that the expiration of a driving licence card is tantamount to the expiration of a driving licence and this question definitely warrants further and in-depth investigation,” says Paans.

What’s the verdict then?

Paans suggests that it is advisable that drivers are at all times in possession of a driving licence card which has not yet expired.

IOL & Drive360