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Act does not state motorists must apply for new driving licence cards, says AfriForum

Law enforcement officers on duty in Olievenhoutbosch. AfriForum says the current national law does not explicitly state that motorists must apply for new licence cards upon expiry, or that it is a crime to drive with an expired licence card nor prescribe any fines. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Law enforcement officers on duty in Olievenhoutbosch. AfriForum says the current national law does not explicitly state that motorists must apply for new licence cards upon expiry, or that it is a crime to drive with an expired licence card nor prescribe any fines. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 24, 2022

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Pretoria - Motorists should not be penalised or fined for not being in possession of a renewed driving licence card because no such penalty exists.

This is one of the declaratory orders sought by civil rights organisation AfriForum in its application opposing the requirement for driving licence cards to be renewed every five years. It wants this requirement to be declared invalid and reviewed.

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AfriForum will ask the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, for a declaratory order that the National Road Traffic Act regulations, to the extent that they limit the renewal period for driving licence cards to five years, are unreasonable and vague.

The organisation said that from a legal perspective, the National Road Traffic Act and regulations were too vague to be workable.

The organisation will argue that the legislation does not clearly distinguish between a “driving licence” and a “driving licence card”.

Neither does it explicitly state that motorists must apply for new licence cards upon expiry. It does not even state that it is a crime to drive with an expired licence card nor prescribe any fines, penalties, or sanctions, AfriForum said.

“The legislation is not clear, concise, and internally harmonious enough to enable the general public to know with a degree of certainty what is expected of them. The government cannot punish members of the public if it cannot clearly show what law is being transgressed. Any such punishment amounts to a violation of rights,” said Reiner Duvenage, campaign officer for strategy and content at AfriForum.

He added that from a practical standpoint, the Department of Transport’s well-documented administrative, operational and financial struggles make it not feasible, unreasonable and irrational to require drivers to renew their licence cards every five years.

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The application further stresses that many countries worldwide opt for a licence card system that does not require such frequent renewals.

“It is outrageous that there appears to be no legislation validating the requirement for driving licence cards to be renewed every five years. If our application is successful, it would mean that it has been wrongfully punishing the public for years.

“This could be a watershed case in the history of South Africa,” Duvenage said.

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Monique Taute, head of campaigns at AfriForum, said in papers filed this week that for more than 20 years, those passing their driving licence card, which said that it was only valid for five years.

The holder of the card must thus renew it every five years without having to be tested beforehand (except for an eye test).

She pointed out that the validity of a driving licence was indemnity under the Road Traffic Act unless the card was suspended or cancelled.

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Following Covid-19, and especially lockdown, the Transport Ministry issued various extensions for the renewal of these cards.

The final extension granted came to an end on May 5.

The difficulty in obtaining a renewal also came under the spotlight recently as the only machine which printed these licences had to be repaired in Germany.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula recently suggested that driving licence cards should remain valid for 10 years. However, Taute said this, too, was inconsistent with the act, and the minister should be interdicted from bringing into effect this proposed amendment.

She said the backlog in printing these cards, which was exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions and the breaking of the printing machine, resulted in the fact that the demand for driving licence cards simply could not be met.

Taute said the requirement that driving licences be renewed every five years placed an additional burden on the system.

She pointed out that, for example, a Swiss driving licence did not have an expiration date, while in Belgium, a card only needed to be renewed if the picture on the card no longer resembled the holder of the card.

In South Africa, drivers who fail to renew their licences face a R1 250 fine. The approach adopted here is that driving a vehicle with an expired licence is treated by the authorities as driving without a licence. This, Taute said, while the National Road Traffic Act set the validity of a driving licence as indefinite.

She said the costs and time involved in renewing a driving licence must also be taken into account, while it is in fact not at all necessary to renew such a licence.

Government, meanwhile, still has to file its opposition with the court. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

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