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Stop fining motorists who failed to renew licences during lockdown says AA

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Durban – The Automobile Association (AA) is calling for a moratorium on fining motorists who have not been able to renew their driver’s licences. Hundreds of South Africans have taken to social media to vent their frustration at being unable to renew both their vehicle and driver’s licences under the lockdown.

They claim that licencing centres are dysfunctional and say the online system has failed them. South African motorists are at their wits end trying to renew their vehicle and drivers licences.

While the grace period for vehicle licence renewals has come and gone, driver’s and learner’s licences which expired between 26 March and 31 August are still valid until the 31 January 2020.

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Spokesperson for the Road Traffic Management Corporation, Simon Zwane encourages motorists to renew their licences :

However for the rest, it has been a constant nightmare to use the online booking system and visit a licencing office. Durban resident Telisha Naidoo, who says that she has an impeccable record, for the first time is driving with an expired drivers licence.

She says the constant issues at the Verulam licencing office, north of Durban, have been frustrating to say the least.

“If I take one day of leave, it is not guaranteed that I will make it to be the first 150 people to get it renewed. When you go there, there are always problems, the computer is down, the network is down, and there is always some problem when you go to the licencing office. Because of how many people need to renew their licences, there is always a crowd. You have to go really early in the morning, 3am and 4 am to get a space. It’s really frustrating because we have a centre in our area but we can’t use it.”

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There are mounting calls from motorists for the validity period of driver’s licence cards to be extended from five to 10 years and for the renewal of driver’s licence cards to be outsourced to other entities.

Online booking system

In Gauteng, where the public has access to the online booking system, it has been a failure for many. Karen Koch says she had to painstakingly sit at her computer for three straight days to eventually secure a booking to renew her driver’s licence.

“With the slots now, I found that you basically have to sit behind your computer from 8am in the morning to 8pm at night and keep checking for available slots. If when they are available, they are gone by the time you come back. You really have to be able to sit by a computer all the time and check. I just see a huge potential for confusion. I struggled in the beginning.”

Complaints from motorists

The Automobile Association (AA) says they have received a number of complaints from drivers about the struggles they have faced with licence renewals, a problem that has been exacerbated under lockdown.

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The AA’s Layton Beard says with thousands of motorists struggling to renew their licences, the failures of the system is being exposed even more.

“We believe that the process of renewal has become more difficult. The problems that exist now existed before COVID, come January next year; we believe that the number of people that have attempted but failed to renew their driver’s licences is going to be huge. It is time for government to acknowledge that there is a problem with the renewal system.”

Beard says they remain concerned about traffic authorities that are targeting motorists at roadblocks with expired licences. He says traffic policing should be about road safety and not revenue collection.

“We regularly see roadblocks where traffic officers are checking for expired licence disks. Now that is all good and well but there are very many moving violations that are taking place like yellow lane driving, speeding, many people that use mobile devices while driving. Those are issues that are important to deal with than checking for expired disks. The system is more of a revenue generation function than road safety function.”

Government working to address challenges

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the Department of Roads and Transport in Gauteng Theo Nkonko says they are working on a recovery plan to deal with the backlog as a result of the lockdown. He says the Department has also corrected the online booking system which previously favoured driving schools.

“The lockdown has had an impact on the way government renders its services. Our DLTC’s (Driving Licence Testing Centres) had to be closed for quite some time which has created a backlog for which we are dealing with. When the president reopened the country, we limited the number of people that come to DLTC. We are encouraging people to use the online booking system. For driver’s licence, we do not take walk-ins, people have to register. We are going to unveil a catch-up plan.”

Motorists who have failed to renew vehicle licences by 22 September will incur additional costs for late renewal. Penalties are calculated at 10% of the annual licensing fees on a pro-rata basis. Drivers also run the risk of receiving traffic fines if stopped by traffic officers.

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