South African citizens are currently bearing the brunt of harsh economic conditions, with millions struggling to make ends meet due to unemployment. However, the government continues to milk the poor through a number of expensive services whose cost can be significantly reduced with adequate use of modern technologies. One such service is the mandatory quinquennial renewal of the driver’s license card. Although it is important for the status of a driver’s license to be updated periodically, it is not necessary for the DL card to have an expiry date and require reprinting, given the country’s fairly advanced ICT infrastructure, which can be used to verify the validity of one’s license, regardless of the age of the card.
Renewing a driver’s license costs a whopping R250, excluding expenses for travel and other transactions e.g. taking ID photos, which are paid for separately. Therefore, most drivers who have to travel to driving license testing centers can expect to part with at least R300 when their licenses are due for renewal. This can put a lot of unnecessary financial strain on penniless job seekers and struggling entrepreneurs. While it is unclear how much each step of the license renewal process costs, it can be deduced from the relatively low fee (R90) of the temporary paper license that it is the printing of the card that escalates the cost.
Making the DL card valid for a lifetime would significantly reduce license renewal fees and the turnaround time for the printing of cards for newly-qualified drivers. However, the government may be concerned that this would result in a substantial loss of revenue. According to eNaTIS, there were over 12 million licensed drivers in the country in 2017. Clearly, the government generates billions of rands through license renewals. Perhaps it is for this reason that it is still deemed necessary to renew the physical DL card instead of using latest technologies to verify licensed drivers. The government wants to keep its cash cow alive, despite its shortcomings and nonmodernness. Due to the large number of DL card orders made each week, the traffic department’s capacity to process them is often exceeded, resulting in massive backlogs. A new license card is supposed to be ready within four to 6 weeks. However, some unfortunate drivers have to wait for months before receiving theirs. This can be avoided by doing away with DL card renewals.
Nowadays we no longer need to rely on the expiry date that is printed on a card to confirm its validity. With access to card scanners, the internet, and other technologies, anything can be authenticated easily using minimal data e.g. bar codes, ID numbers, etc. The driver’s license card has a surplus of crucial identification data in it i.e. thumbprint, ID number, license number and a bar code, each of which can be used to link the card to the license holder for life. Therefore, when a driver has done an eye test and submitted proof of residence, which is all that renewing a South African driver’s license currently entails, it should suffice to update the status of their license, and recent photos in the traffic department’s database only, without issuing a new card if the old one is still in good enough condition to be used for identification purposes. The only time the traffic department has to reprint the DL card is when it is lost or damaged.
In fact, carrying or even possessing a card should now be optional in this day and age of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, which the government says should be embraced for the betterment of our lives through technology. Traffic officers can easily establish the identity of a driver and the status of their license using fingerprint readers. If it is considered still important for drivers to carry proof that they are eligible to be behind the wheel, at least they should be allowed to use other forms of identification e.g. the ID book/card. In many places the driver’s license card is accepted as proof of identity. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect the ID document to be usable for the purpose of verifying an individual’s eligibility to drive as well.
During national elections, the registration status (eligibility to vote) of millions of people is confirmed easily in one day using their ID documents, without requiring voting cards. Clearly, a similar approach can be applied to verify licensed drivers. In some parts of the world, e.g. several US states and countries like Norway, Australia and others, traffic officers now accept digital driver’s licenses (DDLs) stored on smartphones. In addition to making the lives of drivers easier, DDLs are said to be more secure than plastic cards, which helps combat identity fraud.
To conclude, the current South African system, which overemphasizes the value of the non-permanent driver’s license card, to such an extent that something as innocent as forgetting it at home is a finable offense, is tyrannical, exploitative and unfair, considering the fact that there are other reliable and convenient ways traffic officers can use to authenticate the validity of a person’s driver’s license. The system, including relevant legislation, should be reviewed from a modern perspective by the departments of Justice, Transport, Telecommunications and Postal Services, etc. If the government is really keen on boosting technological innovations in the country, it should lead the way by making use of cutting-edge technologies to deliver important public services efficiently instead of sticking to old school ways of doing things even when they prove to be expensive, inconvenient and inefficient.