Driving with an expired licence — what to do if you get stopped

Driving with an expired licence card can earn you a hefty fine, but only if it is more than three months past its initial expiry date and you have applied for a new one.

A MyBroadband reader recently informed us of their experience when a police officer stopped them, and their licence was more than five months past its expiry date.

They said they had only recently realised that the card was expired and had just applied for a renewal timeslot the day before being stopped.

Expecting to be fined or arrested, they informed the officer of their situation and provided proof of their renewal booking, but the officer seemed unfazed and let them continue.

According to a pamphlet published by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), a licence card is considered valid for three months past expiry.

However, the holder must have already applied for a new card within the grace period and be able to produce the expired card and their receipt.

In the reader’s case, the officer may have gotten the timeframe wrong, and they may have just gotten a bit lucky on the day. They should have received a fine.

“The traffic officer might have been aware of the aforementioned but maybe got the period wrong,” Outa told MyBroadband.

Outa’s pamphlet also highlights motorists’ rights when they are stopped in such a situation.

New driver’s licence card design (front)

These include the right to ask for the officer’s details and to refuse to pay anything on-site if the officer demands payment.

“An officer may NOT demand payment at the scene for this fine,” it says.

“Motorists with expired licences can be fined and are not supposed to be arrested.”

If a motorist believes they were unfairly fined for driving with an expired driver’s licence card, they can either accept the fine and pay or challenge it in court.

South Africa’s five-year driving licence card validity period is short compared to many other countries in the world.

MyBroadband compared South Africa’s card validity period with 30 countries last year.

We found that 22 nations had longer validity periods than South Africa, while six were on par, and only two had shorter validity periods.

Most countries’ driving licence cards expire either after 10 or 15 years, while Switzerland’s and Singapore’s — the two with the fewest road deaths per 100,000 people — have cards that only expire when the driver turns 65 or 70, respectively.

Several entities, including Outa, the Automobile Association of South Africa, and Afriforum, have called for an extension of the validity period.

New driver’s licence card design (back)

All of the entities say there is no logical reason for the validity period to be short, particularly when comparing it to other countries’ policies.

Outa’s research found that the average renewal period in 35 countries was 8.5 years. To reduce the administrative burden on road traffic departments in the country, it favours a 10-year validity period.

In October 2022, former transport minister Fikile Mbalula announced that his department would propose to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet that the validity period be extended from five to eight years.

The change in the validity period would form part of the department’s plans to introduce a new driver’s licence card in South Africa.

However, he went quiet on the move after that, with Outa saying no one had yet seen a formal proposal or the research used to reach the proposed eight-year period.

“It is important to note that the Minister indicated that he would first have to present the proposal for extension of driver’s license validity to 8 years to Cabinet and that this proposal has to be passed by Cabinet,” Outa said.

“Outa respectfully disagrees with the Minister’s approach and is of the opinion that this change can easily be effected by the Minister himself, by publishing new regulations in the Government Gazette and that the Minister does not need Cabinet approval before this can be done.”

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Driving with an expired licence — what to do if you get stopped