South Africa has a serious driver's licence backlog. What could an expired licence mean for you and your insurance cover?
In December 2021, South Africa's one and only driver's licence card printing machine did the old Blue Screen of Death number and, in true end-of-year fashion, stopped working. It took two weeks, a trip to Germany, and a ton of tweets and memes before the device was restored to full working order. There was already a significant backlog before the machine packed up, and by the time it returned from Germany, that backlog was up to around two million licences.
Citing Covid-19-related delays as the initial cause of the backlog, South Africa's Department of Transport extended the validity period of all learner's licences, driver's licence cards, temporary driving permits and professional driving permits that expired between 26 March 2020 and 31 August 2021, to 31 March 2022. Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula then announced that all learner licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that were set to expire between 26 March 2020 and 31 March 2022 would get an extended grace period until 15 April 2022.
The backlog is significant, and the delays are long. If you were to renew your licence today, you'd have about 1.5 million people ahead of you waiting for theirs to be processed and printed too.
What do you do in the meantime? And if your licence is one of those that expired during the window period, and is only valid until the end of March this year, how does that affect your Car Insurance?
Ricardo Coetzee, Head of Auto & General Insurance, has some good news. He says that if an insured person doesn't have a valid driver's licence at the time of a loss (by which he means a car accident), but if the lack of a licence was as a result of a purely administrative process that is beyond the insured person's control, then the expired licence would not impact their insurance claim.
"We look at risk when assessing a claim, and an administrative delay does not increase or decrease your risk in operating a vehicle," he says. "We do however urge customers to continue in their efforts to renew these licences as soon as possible, as legally they are still unlicensed to be on the roads."
Wynand van Vuuren, Client Experience Partner at King Price Insurance, agrees. "The short answer is that an expired drivers licence due to your renewal being delayed by the backlog will not affect your cover," he says.
Okay, but since the grace period that extends to 31 March 2022 only applies to drivers whose licences expired between 26 March 2020 and 31 August 2021, what do you do if your expiry date falls outside that window? Or what if your expiry date falls outside that period, but your new licence is caught up in the backlog?
The simple answer is that you can apply for a temporary driving licence, which costs around R90 and is valid for six months. This might be an easier option than trying to justify your expired licence to a traffic cop at a roadblock, but it does mean spending some time at a Drivers Licence Testing Centre. The good news is that you'll walk out with the temporary licence right away.
In the event of a claim with an expired licence linked to the administrative backlog, you need to be aware of the principle of 'causal link'.
"This means the reason for a claim rejection must be directly linked to the cause of the accident or loss," Van Vuuren explains. "For example, all insurance policies state that your vehicle must always be in a roadworthy condition. But if your tyres are worn and someone drives into you while your vehicle is stationary, an insurer cannot reject your claim as there was no causal link between the worn tyres and the accident." In other words, the worn tyres didn't cause the accident.
By the same token, if your drivers licence has expired and an accident occurs or your vehicle is stolen, insurers will have to pay those claims as the licence would not be material to the incident. "What you certainly need to do is renew your licence as soon as possible," says Van Vuuren. "But it won't affect your cover. Just make sure your vehicle is always roadworthy, and that there are no additional factors that can cause or contribute to an accident".
The driver's licence renewal system is slow and frustrating, but do you know what isn't? Our fast and free online platform, which lets you compare Car Insurance quotes side-by-side to ensure you're getting the best deal.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice.