South Africa’s 5-year driver’s licence cards vs the world

South Africa’s driving licence card validity period is relatively short compared to those in 30 other countries, an analysis by MyBroadband has shown.

Many organisations and political parties have called for an extension of the validity period for licence cards.

Among them is the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), which has called for the validity period to be doubled to 10 years.

Its research found that the average renewal period across 35 countries was 8.5 years.

Outa believes increasing the validity period would help address the renewal system’s inefficiencies and reduce costs for motorists.

South Africa plans to introduce a new licence card this year or early in 2024.

Former transport minister Fikile Mbalula has stated the validity period of the newly-issued cards would be extended to eight years, although this remains to be confirmed.

The pilot project for the new cards is expected to begin in November 2023 and be completed by the end of March 2024, while the final validity date for the last old licence cards issued will be 31 March 2029.

New driver’s licence card design (front)

MyBroadband looked into the validity periods of driver’s licence cards in 30 countries across all the world’s populated continents to see how their policies compared with South Africa’s.

Aside from varying validity periods, many of these countries have different minimum driving ages, testing regimes, and restrictions that take effect once the driver reaches a certain age.

The longest period of validity is enjoyed by citizens of Switzerland, where a licence card never has to be renewed until the driver turns 70.

From then on, the renewal period will range between two and four years, depending on the results of a medical examination at the time of renewal.

In Singapore, the same rule applies up to the age of 65, after which renewal is required every three years.

Another country with a long expiry period is India, where licences are valid for 20 years until the driver turns 50. From then, the card has to be renewed every five years.

Europe also has several countries with long validity periods of 15 years — including Denmark, France, Germany, and Norway.

While these expiry periods might be the envy of South African motorists who have spent hours in queues at driving licence testing centres, it bears mention that there are several countries with shorter validity than five years.

The shortest validity period is in Egypt and Kenya, where drivers can choose between one or three-year licences, with the former being cheaper.

Licence validities were also shorter in certain states in the US.

The maximum validity periods of licences in Argentina, Botswana, Canada, Japan, and Nigeria matched South Africa’s.

However, most countries had longer card validity periods — typically 10 years.

The table below summarises the validity periods of driver’s licences for citizens driving light passenger vehicles in 30 countries.

Countries in yellow have the same or similar validity periods as South Africa, countries in red have shorter periods, and countries in green have longer validity for their licence cards.

Light passenger vehicle driver’s licence cards — South Africa vs the world
Country Validity period Age exceptions WHO road deaths ranking per 100,000 people
(Higher number is better, 1st is worst)
Argentina 3 or 5 years None 105th
Australia 5-10 years Varies by state 158th
Belgium 10 years None 154th
Botswana 5 years None 48th
Brazil 10 years 50-69: 5 years
70+: 3 years
Canada 5 years 70-80: pending medical exam every 5 years
80+: pending medical exam 2 years
China 6 years 70+: No driving allowed 96th
Denmark 15 years 70+: 2 years 169th
Egypt 1 or 3 years None 116th
France 15 years None 156th
Germany 15 years None 170th
India 20 years 50+: 5 years 90th
Ireland 10 years 75+: 1 or 3 years, depending on medical exam 171st
Israel 10 years 70-80: 5 years
80+: 2 years
Italy 10 years 50-69: 5 years
70+: 3 years
Japan 5 years 70: 4 years
71+: 3 years
Kenya 1 or 3 years None 12th
Korea 7 years 75+: 3 years 150th
Mexico 3-5 years 60-80: 5 years
80+: 1 year
Netherlands 10 years 65-69: Up to 75th birthday
70-74: 5 years
75+: 5 years with medical exam
New Zealand 10 years 75-80: 5 years
80: 2 years
Nigeria 3 or 5 years None 54th
Norway 15 years 80+: 3 years 179th
South Africa 5 years None 61st
Spain 10 years 65+: 5 years 167th
United Arab Emirates 10 years 65+: 3 years 118th
United Kingdom 10 years 70+: 3 years 173rd
United States of America 4-8 years (mostly the latter) Varies by state 120th
Sweden 10 years None 174th
Singapore Until 65th birthday 65+: 3 years 181st
Switzerland Until 70th birthday 70+: 2-5 years depending on medical exam 180th

As shown in the table above, we also considered the road fatalities in each country to see whether there was any correlation between the validity periods and safety records.

This appeared to confirm there was no relationship.

Switzerland and Singapore, the countries with the longest validity periods, have the 3rd and 4th lowest road death rates, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data.

Conversely, two countries with the worst road death rates — Kenya and Nigeria — had very short renewal periods.

However, India has long-lasting licence cards and the fourth-worst road death rate.

To better understand the overall trend, we created six categories of validity periods — no expiration, 20 years, 15 years, ten years, 7-8 years, five years, and less than five years.

We then calculated the average deaths per 100,000 people from the countries in each category.

We found that countries with a 15-year validity period had the lowest road death rates, followed by those with ten years and then 20 years or more.

The countries with the shortest validity periods tend to have higher average road deaths per 100,000 people.

However, that doesn’t mean there is a correlation (and definitely doesn’t imply any causation), as there are a variety of confounding factors.

For example, countries with lower road deaths are likely to have better law enforcement and less corruption among traffic officials.

The graph below shows the outcome of our comparison of the average road deaths per 100,000 people for the six categories of driving licence validity periods.

Now read: Aarto won’t work because South Africans are bad drivers — expert

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South Africa’s 5-year driver’s licence cards vs the world