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Digital Driving Licences: South Africa’s Faster, Safer Road to the Future

Driver's Licence
  1. South Africa’s Department of Transport is introducing digital driving licences and implementing greater virtualisation and automation to streamline the application process and reduce turnaround times.
  2. The new driving licence cards, expected to launch in 2023, will feature enhanced security measures, including biometric data, holograms, and watermarks, to combat fraud and improve road safety.
  3. In addition to these improvements, the department is considering extending the validity of driving licences from the current five years to eight years, with current cards remaining valid until 31 March 2029.

South Africa’s Department of Transport (DoT) is set to revolutionize the driving licence landscape with new digital driving licence cards and a push towards greater virtualisation and automation of the Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA) during the 2023/24 financial year. These changes are expected to make obtaining and renewing driving licences quicker, easier, and more secure, as well as potentially extending their validity.

As part of the department’s annual performance plan, the digital driving licence initiative is a key component in achieving long-term goals, such as optimizing driving licence production, reducing the turnaround time for producing and distributing licences by the DLCA, and enhancing road safety through improved security features. Over the medium term, from 2023 to 2026, the department will prioritize the rollout of virtual cards, along with other initiatives like automating manual operations in the driving licence application environment.

In 2022, the average processing time to issue a driving licence in South Africa was 26 days. The department aims to reduce this to 14 days in 2023, and further decrease it to 10 days by 2025. According to the department, “Producing a driving licence card within five days is an achievable goal that requires us to work diligently in the service of our people.”

The move away from paper-based processes and towards digital services is expected to significantly reduce turnaround times for applications, such as operating licences, tourist accreditations, and other similar procedures.

The concept of digital driving licences for South Africa was first introduced by former transport minister Fikile Mbalula in 2022. He announced that the department would officially launch the system, known as mobile or electronic driver’s licence (eDL), in the 2024/25 financial year. Motorists will have the option to apply for a physical card and an electronic driver’s licence, which will be accessible through their mobile phones.

The DLCA has noted that the introduction of electronic licences is now feasible due to increased mobile broadband penetration across the country. The digital licence will be preceded by the launch of a new driving licence card with enhanced security features, including biometric data, holograms, and watermarks, in 2023. These improvements aim to reduce the prevalence of fraudulent licences and bolster road safety.

Current driving licence cards will be phased out, and the printing machine responsible for producing them will be decommissioned in 2023. The new system will employ smart-card technology to link driving licence cards, with a pilot of the new licences planned between 1 November 2023 and 31 March 2024. In addition, the department is considering extending the validity of the cards from the current five-year period to eight years. Existing cards will continue to be recognized as valid until 31 March 2029.

With the forthcoming digital transformation, South Africa’s Department of Transport aims to modernize and streamline the driving licence acquisition and renewal process, ultimately improving the overall experience for motorists and enhancing road safety across the country.

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