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.

1,328 thoughts on “Driving Licence system in South Africa

  1. Where are the current vehicle categories described in official SA govt website or in current SA law? I need to do international comparisons that will be accepted overseas.

    • It’s all in the National Road Traffic Act, offhand, I think it’s listed under Regulations, Chapter V: Fitness of Drivers, Part ll: Learner’s and driving licences

  2. Good morning

    I wanted to know If I upgrade my code 10 drivers license to code 14 what will my first issue date be ? Will it be the one on code 10 or new one for code 14

    • On my licence the date reflected was that of when I got my code 14.
      They were able to give me a printout from the eNATIS system though, showing that I did previously have another licence and when I got that.

  3. Hi,

    If I already hold an EB license and want to obtaim a HMV license, do I have to write the learners again? Also, if I have to and I pass the test and get my learner license for HMV, already having an EB for over 20 years, will I still need someone with a EC/EC1 license with me in a small 4 ton van or dropside truck?


    • Hey Dawid

      If you want to get a new driver’s licence, you have to get a new learner’s licence first, regardless of the driver’s licence you already hold.

      In the same vain, if you don’t have a driver’s licence to drive a specific vehicle, you may not drive it alone. So even if you have an EB and a learner’s licence for EC, if you’re driving a 4 ton truck (which requires a C1 or highter), you need someone with a valid licence for that vehicle with you.

  4. Morning
    With the code EB am I allowed to drive a vehicle for an example a VITO that as 4 wheels at the back not a double diff but as 4 wheels

    My understanding is that with a code licence EB
    One can drive a vehicle not more then 3.5ton

    Thank you

    • As you mentioned, with an EB you can drive a vehcile that has GVM of less than 3.5 tons. Number of wheels do not mattera

      However, as far as I know a 4-wheel rear-axis does not exist for the Vito. Are you not referring to the Sprinter?

      While the Vito might well fall below the 3.5ton GVM, a Sprinter is less likely to. The easy way to check is to just refer to the licence disk on the vehicle.

  5. Is it possible to get an alternate date for an appointment for a drivers licence as a training period has been scheduled at work ? thanks .

    • If you can get an official letter from your work stating you are required to be there, you may be able to get the date moved.

  6. E-code licences seems impossible to achieve for recent drivers. where or how do i go about getting an E-code drivers licence? someone told me if you have a C1 licence you can just drive an EB, with C you can drive EC1, how true is that?
    why is E so difficult to find?

    • E’s are not impossible to get, anyone get an E- driver’s licence without any licence before hand. They are also not difficult to find, whatever that means.
      C can drive C1 and B. You cannot drive EB or EC1 vehicles with a C or C1 licence. To get an E-code licence, you do your learner’s licence, and then you do your test in a vehicle that meets the requirements for an E- vehicle. There are many schools that offer such services, often under the title Code 14.

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