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.

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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.

1,356 thoughts on “Driving Licence system in South Africa

  1. Hi

    I have a EC licence. If I want to drive a motorcycle, must I go write the learners and do the motorcycle yard test?

    Another question I have is that I bought a secondhand motorcycle. Will I be able to register this motorcycle on my name and take out the new licence if I am only the holder of a EC licence and not a A licence as well?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Christian,

      You will have to redo both the learners and yard test for a motorbike.
      I think you will be able to register the licence in your name, but I’m not sure.

  2. Who should I contact in which SA dept to obtain proof of my driving license having been issued in 1987 prior to the 1998 change in licenses as it seriously limits the vehicle and MAM/GVM/GTM of vehicle and trailer I can drive in the UK (and now also in SA)?

    I’ve had my car driving license since 1987 but the newer driver’s card only shows since 1998 (11 years later). Prior to the change I already had lots of experience driving various trailers of various masses and also microbuses. My old ID showing my original drivers license (code 8) was stolen a few years ago and I have no other proof of date of issue being before 1998 (specifically 1987 for code 08).
    I want to drive heavier trailers (for instance small yachts) in the UK related to the date I have held my drivers license since.
    Even obtaining a C1 medium vehicle category license wouldn’t afford me the trailer mass I by rights qualify for.

    Some examples from this website: https://www.gov.uk/driving-licence-categories
    Eg 1. In the UK a category B license issued before 1 Jan1997 allows driver to drive a car and trailer combo up to 8250 kg MAM, and a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM. Where issued on/after 1 Jan 1997 the vehicle and trailer MAM is limited to 3500 kg, and further restrictions for up to 8 passengers.
    Eg 2. In the UK a category BE license issued before 19 Jan 2013 allows the driver to drive a vehicle with a MAM of 3500 kg with a trailer, it being any size trailer.

    • South African Traffic Department are probably the only people who can help you.
      If you had a licence (code 8) pre-1998 in SA, it should have been re-issued as an EB, unless you had any restrictions on it. An EB should be sufficient for your towing needs.

      • Thanks. I’ll contact them.
        I did and my license was re-issued as a B and an EB but not at the early enough date to drive a minibus and larger, heavier trailers which I had plenty of experience at before then.
        An EB allows a trailer only up to 750kg but I want to tow sailboats again that weigh in heavier. An earlier dated EB allows for up to 8250kg and minibus even a minibus with trailer.
        Now I’m wondering if proof of a code 8 from before the earlier EB date will change anything…or if I had to convert to EB by the earlier date. Tell the the unhappy news?

        • Hi Basil
          Sorry, I misunderstood, so the issue isn’t that the SA government issued you a B, you have an EB, but the UK’s rules only authorize you to drive a GVM > 750kg if you got your licence before a certain date. That’s odd, because in SA you’d be able to tow a large trailer with an EB.

          Unfortunately the only thing I can think of is to contact the Department of Transport / eNATIS / Traffic Department, however I don’t know what kind of records they keep pre-1998.

          Good luck

          • Yes that’s my problem – my A, B and EB licenses show they exist only from the date of changeover (June 1999) from the code 1 and code 8 times and not from the dates I passed my code 1 and code 8 licenses. The EB date passed in the UK makes a huge difference in size and weight of trailer with the latest dates allowing only trailers up to 750kg which is fine for most household purposes but far below my experience and requirement for towing larger boats, braked trailers, multiple axles, heavier loads, etc.

            In the UK an EB doesn’t allow you to drive a minibus either with or without trailer. It sounds more restrictive than in SA.

            I’m wondering now if finding proof of the earlier date of my code 8 (1987) which included microbus and larger trailer will even budge the UK date on my license because it was a “code 8” and not an “EB” issue date but it’s worth a try.

            I’ll need that proof of date from the dept and probably also proof of code 8 trailer rules. Can you please help point me in the direction of the older code 8 trailer rules?

          • Hey Basil,
            All the information should be contained in the Road Traffic Act. The parts describing old driver’s licences is in the regulations, Chapter V, Fitness of Drivers, Part 3. There’s a lot of information to go over. I had a quick look and couldn’t find anything helpful, but a longer read through all the data may reveal something.

  3. Hi!
    I recently passed my learner’s test, and have been issued with a code 3 learners license – however I’ve changed my mind and would like to do my drivers in a light motor vehicle ( code 2) , and not a truck. Will I be allowed to practice driving in a code 2 vehicle, as well as be tested in it even though my learner’s license is for code 3? And if not, is there a way I can change my learner’s without having to write the test again?

    Thanks !

    • Hey Thendo,
      A Code 3 learner’s licence covers you for: “Code 3: Any motor vehicle other than a motor cycle or tricycle.”

      So it should be fine to drive code 2 vehicles, and do your licence in a light motor vehicle if you choose.

  4. Hie i have licence code c1,so now i change my mind i need code C.so is it possible to get code C whilst my code c1 not yet expired

    • You can apply for a new licence whenever you want, regardless of your current licence standing. However you will have to repeat your learner’s and driver’s licence tests to obtain your C licence.

    • According to this website from the Western Cape Government, you need to be at least 17 years old: link

      According to this website from the National Governemnt, you need to be at least 18 years old: link

      To get an actual driver’s licence for over 125cc (code A), you must be over 18. So it would make sense that to get a learner’s it would be the same. To be safe, assume you must be 18 years or older.

  5. I received my motorbike license in 1978 and was in my old blue ID book. I never had my license card done as I was in West Africa at that time when it was implemented and are still out of the country where I work. I will be in SA next month and want to buy a motorbike again. My question is (1)are my drivers license still valid. (2)Can I just go to the testing grounds where my license were originally issued and renew it.(2)what type of fine am I looking at or must I just go for my license again. That is the difficult part as I am only in SA for around 2 weeks every 3 months or so making it very difficult.

    • Hi Johan, I’m not 100% sure.

      According to this article, you should be able to get it converted. Usually because this is after the set time for conversions there would be a late fee, however, if you can prove you’ve been out of the country the time, you may get this fee waived. I’m not sure what the fee is.

      If you have been back to South Africa since March 1998, and it has been more than 6 months since that initial arrival date, you most likely will not be able to get your licence renewed, and will have to redo your learners and drivers.

      You definitely can’t drive in South Africa with your current licence, but may be able to get it converted.

      For more info, try searching for “conversion of drivers licence from ID book to CCF”

  6. Please tell me. The EC1 0.04 allows me to drive vehicles greater than 16000 kg why don’t they just convert that licence to an EC.
    REASON for my question is, if you pass out with a bus and a trailer they don’t give you an EC1 0.04, you are given an EC drivers licence.

    • Hi Malcolm,

      Sorry, I don’t understand your question. EC1 only allows you to drive vehicles up to 16 tons, not greater than 16 tons.

      I’m not sure what you mean by EC1 0.04

        • Hi Malcolm,

          I think I understand now. If you have an EC1 with vehicle restriction 4, it allows you to drive any vehicle combination up to a GVM of 16 tons, or a bus that is over 16 tons.
          If you get an EC, it allows you to drive any vehicle combination over 16 tons.

          So there is a difference between the two.

          • Just to bring to your attention is that when you pass out with a bus and a trailer greater than 16 ton they give you an EC and not an EC1 .04

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