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.

When do you require a PDP / PrDP licence?

I was recently in a discussion with friends over when one actually needs a PDP licence? One of them is a missionary who often transports people around in one of the church’s Quantums. Investigating the situation it all comes down to how you want to define certain things. The following is the simplest breakdown to determine if you need one or not:

Click for full size modified from: foresightpublications.co.za

Click for full size
modified from: foresightpublications.co.za

The biggest thing to decide is on the concept of paying customers. Certain websites state it as “a motor vehicle used for the conveyance of persons for reward” and others as “other vehicle carrying paying passengers”. These are two very different topics. In my friend’s case, the passengers aren’t paying, but she may be receiving remuneration for her work at the church and such as is required to drive the mini-bus as part of her duties, thus she would fall in this category.

If we look at the regulation itself:

National Road Traffic Act, 1996 – National Road Traffic Regulations, 1999 – Chapter V: Fitenss of Drivers – Part IV: Professional Driving Permit – 115: Certain drivers of certain vehicles to hold professional driving permit

1) Subject to the provisions of subregulation (2), a professional driving permit shall be held by the driver of –

… e) a motor vehicle used for the conveyance of persons for  reward …

Thus if she is being remunerated for her work she would probably require one. It also explains why on sports tours at university we didn’t require one, as we were not being paid for driving.

Other things to note:

  • The currently used Professional Driving Permit (PrDP) is the continuation of the old Public Driving Permit (PDP) which was used pre 1998 and excluded certain provisions which are now included under the PrDP.
  • Price will vary with time.
  • A D (dangerous goods) licence includes a G (goods) licence.
  • One can hold both a P (people) and G, or P and D PrDP licence at the same time.
  • The minimum age for a PrDP licence is 18 for a G licence, 21 for a P licence, and 25 for a D licence.
  • If it’s a goods vehicle under 3.5 tons, it does not require a PrDP.
  • If it’s a vehicle of any size used to carry passengers for reward, or has 12 or more seats, a PrDP is required.
  • Almost all vehicles over 3.5 tons will require a PrDP, either for carrying passengers or as a goods vehicle. This is irrelevant of whether you are transporting goods or passengers at the time or not.
  • A vehicle over 3.5 tons, but is not a goods vehicle, does not require a PrDP. I’ve seen several people make mention of the Ford F250 and how traffic officer’s have demanded a PrDP. According to the law it is not required unless it can be defined as a goods vehicle. It does however require a C1 (old code 10) or higher licence.

This opens another discussion on the definition of goods vehicle. The RTA defines goods as

any movable property

and a goods vehicle as

a motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, motor tricycle, motor quadrucycle, motorcar, minibus or bus, designed or adapted for the conveyance of goods on a public road and includes a truck-tractor, adaptor dolly, converter dolly and breakdown vehicle

Which is very vague, so people who get fines for their F250 should probably just right a nice letter trying to explain how their vehicle is a private vehicle and should not fall under the definition of a goods vehicle.

To get a PrDP you must also not have been convicted of certain crimes within the space of 5 years (NRTA):

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;

With regards to foreign/international/overseas driver’s licences, the exact law is unclear and interpreted differently. My interpretation of the NRTA (specific section) matches Fleetwatch here. If you wish to drive a vehicle that requires a PrDP, you either need a South African licence with a PrDP, or you need a licence from a prescribed country with their equivalent of the PrDP (for example Zimbabwe’s Defensive Driving Licence). If you have a licence from any other country you are not permitted to drive such a vehicle.

This is however countered by the AA in this response of their’s in which they essentially state that if you are allowed to drive a PrDP vehicle in your country, you can drive it in SA.

Please note, I am in no way an expert with regards to traffic laws or any related topic, I am merely laying out the information as I’ve found it, all comments below are also given with a view from the facts I know, always enquire at your local traffic department when uncertain.

 

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