What is happening with the new Online Driving Licence Service in South Africa?

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In an effort to improve efficiency and reduce queues at driving licence testing centres (DLTCs), the South African Transport Department has moved into the digital age. South African drivers can now book their vehicle licence discs and driver’s licence online. By paying a R99 delivery fee these can even be delivered to applicants’ doorsteps. Having this online facility will hopefully mean less queuing at driving licence testing centres .

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has over recent months often referred to a new service delivery model set to be rolled out across the country. On 17 February 2022 the online system was officially launched and a bouquet of services are now available online. Though the system is currently only in force in Gauteng and areas of the Eastern Cape, it is set to roll out nationally as all provinces have agreed to implement it.

The minister acknowledged that the South African vehicle, learner, and driver licensing system has been challenged for an extended period of time. The new system will not only be more time-efficient, but will be much more customer-centric and improve service delivery. “The era of long queues and service centres that close at 15:30, forcing workers to take time off work to access traffic services, will soon become a thing of the past,” the Minister said.   

Drivers can now select their natis online booking slots for their driver’s licence, pay their application fees, and choose where they want their documents  to be delivered. However, drivers will still have to visit a driving licence testing centre to have their fingerprints taken and their eye tests done. The department does plan, however, to introduce online eye testing in the future where eye test results will automatically be uploaded and linked to the driver’s application.

However, while there is widespread consensus that the new system is a very big step in the right direction, there are still equally widespread concerns as well. Whilst drivers can make an online booking, pay their  application fee, and arrange for the delivery of their driver’s licence card or licence discs, they do still physically  have to go to a driving licence testing centre for an eye test and to have their fingerprints taken – so inevitably they find themselves back in that DLTC queue! 

There are also concerns that South Africans will once again need to spend more money with a R22 admin fee on top of a R250 online fee for licence renewals. There is concern about these costs as well as the reliability of the IT infrastructure that underpins these services. These concerns were fuelled by the NaTis system experiencing problems due to technical issues on 17 and 18 February.

There is also a backlog of approximately 2 million driving licence cards due to the only licence printing machine having broken down in November 2021 and only getting back into action, as it were, at the end of January 2022. Drivers forced to apply for temporary driving permits have to pay R90 to obtain them. 

Future plans also include new smart card driver’s licences which are to be introduced as from October 2023. The existing driver’s licence cards are set to be being phased out over a 5-year period.

The period of grace that has been extended for driver’s licence cards that expired from 26 March 2020 – 31 August 2021, is only valid until March 2022.  Two centres at Waterfall Office Park (Midrand) and Eco-Origins Park (Centurion) in Gauteng were opened to alleviate delays and start reducing the backlog. Extended operating hours over weekends have also been implemented in 106 other major centres in an effort to speed up clearing the backlog.  However, nothing has been said about a possible extension of the March 31 deadline though the minister has been petitioned to do so. 

The Automobile Association (the AA) has also urged the Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula, to extend the period of validity of drivers’ licences and vehicle licence discs. The AA has even offered its national network of agents to help drivers in the renewal process of their licences which is currently only offered through DLTCs and post office branches (many of which have recently closed). 

To alleviate the problem, the lobby group, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, OUTA, has again called for a 10-year driver licence renewal period as opposed to the 5-year period currently in place. 

In fact, OUTA CEO, Wayne Duvenage, feels that the entire “archaic” system currently in force should be drastically overhauled to alleviate administrative problems and streamline processes. 

He further feels that we “need to review and overhaul the entire process when it comes to vehicles, driving licences, vehicle roadworthiness, and how we manage and police this” because it has become “a mammoth fiasco … It shouldn’t be this difficult to get your driver’s licence, it should be a very easy process … as it used to be in the past”.

Going digital is hailed generally as a vital step forward for the South African Transport Department and Minister Mbalula. But a great deal will hinge on the efficiency with which the new system is implemented and whether the advice of other stakeholders is considered.

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