Driving Licence system in South Africa

The driving licence system in South African went through an overhaul in 1998 from the old system to the new system. While there have been tweaks to the system over the years, for the majority it’s stayed the same. Here’s a quick summary of the current system, with equivalent codes from the old system.

When the new system was implemented, everyone who had an old licence of the form Code 8, Code 12 etc. was given an equivalent licence in the new letter format, eg. B, EC etc. To this day people still often refer to having a code 12 licence, although the system is not used in practice.

Learner’s Licence
There are three main categories of licences. Light Motor Vehicles, Heavy Motor Vehicles and Motor Cycles. Before you can get either one of these licences, you must first write a learner’s licence exam. This is a 1 hour theory exam, to test your knowledge of the rules of the road. There are three different learner’s licences available, each one applying to a different vehicle class. These licences are:

Code 1: Motorcycles
Code 2: Light Motor Vehicles
Code 3: Heavy Motor Vehicles

A Heavy motor vehicle is considered any vehicle with a GVM over 3,500kg (3.5 tons), and a light motor vehicle anything below. There was talk 2 years ago about combining learners licences so as not to require people who already have a licence to rewrite their learner’s licence, but this was never passed. Currently a Learner’s Licence is valid for 2 years. Once you have a learner’s licence for a vehicle, you are free to drive that vehicle as long as there is a driver licenced for that vehicle in the passenger seat with you. You may drive on freeways, and have additional passengers. If you want to get your Driver’s Licence, you must apply so that your test occurs before your learner’s licence expires. If you have a learner’s licence for a motorcycle, you may drive by yourself (I’ve also heard you’re not allowed passengers, unsure).

You may only apply for a Code 2 Learner’s Licence if you are over the age of 17. For a Code 1 licence you may apply when you are 16 (limited to 125cc). I have heard that you must be 18 before applying for a Code 3 learner’s licence.


Driver’s Licence
For motorcycles there are two licences available. An A, and a A1 licence. An A1 licence you may hold from the age of 17, and is limited to motorcycles with an engine capacity of 125cc or less. You may only get an A licence once you turn 18, and permits you to drive any motorcycle.

Light motor vehicles have two classes. Either a B (old code 7) or an EB (old code 8). The B licence is the standard driver’s licence that most people get. It allows you to drive any Light Motor Vehicle and tow a trailer with a GVM less than 750kg. An EB licence is for the same class of vehicles, but allows you to tow trailers in excess of GVM 750kg. Most people who did their driver’s licence before 1998 were automatically upgraded to an EB licence, whereas most new drivers have only a B licence. This limits one from towing certain caravans and boats which can have GVMs higher than 750kg. You must be 18 years old before you take the test for an LMV licence.

Heavy Motor vehicles have four classes. A code C1 (former code 10) which is for vehicles with a GVM between 3.5 and 16 tons and a code C which is for vehicles with a GVM over 16 tons. Drivers with a code C1 licence are permitted to drive vehicles of class B. Drivers with a code C may drive vehicles covered by both the C1 and B codes.
A code EC1 licence holds the same rights as a C1 licence, but with the inclusion of trailers with a GVM in excess of 750 kg. Likewise an EC licence permits the driver to drive vehicles covered by a C licence with a trailer of GVM in excess of 750kg. The holder of an EC licence, in addition to vehicles covered by a C licence, may also drive EC1 vehicles.

In 2010 reports were issued that drivers who obtained a Heavy Duty Vehicle Licence after January 2011 would not be permitted to drive light motor vehicles. This law was never passed.

To obtain a driver’s licence, you must hold the appropriate learner’s licence and do a practical test for driving that vehicle. The test comprises of a yard test (inclined start and alley docking. Additional three point turn and parallel parking for LMV and additional straight reverse for HMVs). As well as an on the road test, generally along preset routes in general traffic. For each of these you must follow practices specified by the K53 defensive driving system, which has many critics. It is advised that anyone attempting to pass a driving test in South Africa first go for driving lessons with an accredited driving school.

A South African Driver’s Licence must be renewed every 5 years.

SA Driver's Licence

SA Driver’s Licence
Rear and Front

Professional Driver’s Licence
Anyone who wants to drive a motor vehicle for reward (taxi, deliveryman etc.) or anyone driving a Goods Vehicle, or Vehicle able to transport more than 11 people must hold a Professional Driver’s Permit. See my article here for more information. A standard PrDP licence is valid for 2 years.

Other things to note
It is possible to hold a licence which is valid for both an LMV or HMV as well as a motorcycle. You will be issued with one card which displays the separate restrictions, dates etc. for each.
Whatever vehicle you do your licence in will be the vehicle that you are given a licence for. If you drive an automatic vehicle, you will not be permitted to drive manual vehicles.
Whenever you renew your driver’s licence you will be required to do an eye test, this test will dictate whether you are required to drive a vehicle with or without glasses.
A South African Driver’s licence is in the shape of a credit card. Pre-1998, driver’s licences were included in your ID book.
Go here to view a table comparing the old and the current driver’s licence codes.

Most of the information here I posted from memory. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, if uncertain, please contact your local Traffic Department for assistance.
Source: General Knowledge and the National Road Traffic Act.

1,360 thoughts on “Driving Licence system in South Africa

  1. Hi there,

    I have an C1 drivers license and I know I’m allowed to drive a light vehicle. Now the thing is I know when driving a heavy vehicle the GVM of the trailer should be <750kg…. so i want to know when I'm driving a light vehicle should the trailer GVM also be <750kg or is the trailer not applicable when driving a light vehicle with an C1 drivers license?
    If so, for conclusion does it mean that difference between EB & C1 when having a C1 drivers license is size of the GVM trailer……

    • Both a B and C1 licence have a max trailer GVM of 750kg, regardless of the size of the vehicle you’re driving.
      The E- prefix allows you to tow a trailer of any mass. EB licence is just a B licence with big trailer. EC1 licence is just a C1 licence with big trailer.
      So if you drive a LMV, the trailer still has to be less htan 750kg

      • I got it thanx for the clarity.

        One more thing, which criminal record/s prohibits one to obtain a PDP/PrDP.

        • if the applicant has, within a period of five years prior to the date of the application, been convicted of or has paid an admission of guilt on –
          i) driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect;
          ii) driving a motor vehicle while the concentration of alcohol in his or her blood exceeded a statutory limitation;
          iii) reckless driving; or
          iv) in the case of an application for a category “P” and “D” permit, an offence of which violence was an element;

  2. Hi
    If you have a foreign licence and it is expired.can you renew it here? If yes what are the requirements? Thank you.

  3. I got my licence in May 1998. I was issued with a B licence and not an EB licence. I heard (under correction) that the law changed in March 1998, 2 months before I got my licence, from automatically getting an EB to just a B licence. Is there any way form me to apply for an exemption? or do I have to do the test over in order to be issued with an EB licence? I started licence process prior to the law being changed…I understand that if one applies now for the B licence you can decide which one to have…but back then…I was unaware of the option since it came into law 2 months prior?

    • Road Traffic Act laws take effect from the date of being awarded your licence, regardless of when you started applying or booked your licence. Before March 98 you would have been issued a code 8 licence which would have been upgraded to a code EB. Since then the default licence given is the code B which you received. You can decided which licence to apply for, but to get your EB you have to do the test with a large trailer attached, so it’s not as simple as making that decision when applying.

      Unfortunately you will have to redo your learner’s and driver’s licence tests should you wish to get an EB or other licence.

  4. good day, I’ve got my drivers license in 1988 . I passed out with a automatic car and now I bought a manual car. my license is restricted how can I change that. do I need to do my learners and my license over to accomplice that.

    • Easiest way to check is just to look at the back of your driver’s licence, you’ll see a picture of a car with a caravan, it should indicate that you will require a code EB.

  5. Hi
    If you are disabled (one arm only no prosthesis as yet) are you obliged to obtain a special license to drive and also for modification of your vehicle? I have researched same and found a code 12. Is that the code that will appear on the license card?

    Will greatly appreciate your assistance herein.
    Thank you

    • A normal licence says you can drive any car, whether it has modifications or not.

      If something happened that has impaired your ability to drive, your previous licence should be revoked. According to the NRTA you should declare this yourself.

      You can then apply for a new driver’s licence, this you can do in any car. If you do it in a normal car you will get a normal licence. If you require modifications, then you will get a licence with a vehicle restriction (3: physically disabled) and/or driver restriction (2: Artificial limb), depending on your situation.

      I’m not clear on the exact details though, it may be possible to keep your normal licence and get the restrictions applied without having to do a new driving test. But speak to your local traffic department about such specifics.

  6. Can you please assist regarding the law of the land in South Africa regarding the necessity for a farm worker to have a drivers license to drive a tractor only on the farm for agricultural reasons?

    • Hi Sylvia

      I can only speak to the legalities as defined by the NRTA, and if all driving is taking place on private roads, then no licence is required.

      However for insurance and liability issues I don’t have an answer.

  7. My husband got a job as an Assistant Driver on a truck. He must first obtain his Code 14 learners licence. Is there any restrictions as to whether the truck carries a load or not? There will always be a licenced driver with him.

    • I am not aware of any limit regarding the weight, as long as a fully licenced driver with PrDP is in the passenger seat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.