Image via WikipediaThe National's position on the doorstep of the Federal Government has allowed the newspaper to quickly carve a leadership position in the UAE's news scene - it's been consistently breaking stories that other papers aren't within a mile of, frequently scooping them on important moves being made or studied.
One such story today is the report on reforms being considered to the UAE's driving test regulations. Possible changes being suggested by consultants include requiring Brits, Canadians and Australians to pass a local theoretical and practical test before they can drive here, requiring taxi drivers to have two years' experience of driving in the UAE before they can drive a taxi and also allowing people to learn to drive, if they wish, with an unlicensed but experienced driver rather than being forced to go to a driving school.
Two of these reforms I totally agree with. The third is ridiculous and unworkable.
The moves are being bandied about by UK based consultancy Transport Research Laboratory, which is advising the Ministry of Interior. TRL, previously a UK government entity, was privatised in 1996 and offers counsel and services based around transport and logistics.
The reform idea that tickled me enormously was bringing in the UK practice of allowing people to learn to drive without being forced to go to a licensed instruction. In the UK, it's quite common for people to learn to drive with a family member, perhaps having a couple of 'top up' lessons with an instructor before sitting the test. These days, newly qualified drivers have to wear a green 'L' plate for a year after they qualify, as well, which I do think is a good idea.
The driving schools are obviously up in arms about that one, because they'd lose their easy source of revenue from giving a million (or whatever the mandatory number is this week) lessons to hapless learners. The standard of instruction (Sarah took some top-up lessons here and was horrified) here is often cited as being impossibly low and close to useless. I have certainly seen learner cars driven with incredible incompetence both with one and two occupants.
So I think that one would be interesting - and probably see the pass rate increase exponentially.
The Brits need a license idea, I support purely on the basis of fairness. It's not fair that we don't have to take a test while other nationalities do. If we are as superior and wonderful as we all think we are as drivers, we should breeze it. An alternative would be to widen the 'no license' requirement to any country that had professional standards of driving qualification and a similar road sign system to the UAE, but maybe that's just me being silly.
However, while I have no problem with British nationals being required to take a theoretical and practical test in the UAE, I cannot fathom the reasons that TRL's Britta Lang gave to The National - “The knowledge of local road safety requirements is quite incompetent. Many people don’t know the road signs and are not aware of the safety requirements.”
That's an unsustainable assertion (unless it's based on extensive research of the knowledge of local traffic signs among those newly awarded with their first residence visa, which I doubt) and an odd one, to boot. The traffic signs in the UAE are based on British signs, using the same colour coding and shapes for mandatory, advisory and cautionary signs. I can think of no traffic sign (please do prove me wrong) in use here that wouldn't be instantly recognisable to any Western driver, except perhaps the 'mind the camels' sign, which would require at least a passing knowledge of the shape of a one-humped ungulate.
In fact, in order to comply with local safety requirements, I have had to learn a number of new skills, including pulling over when the Nissan Patrol up my arse flashes and beeps at me, watching out for blind maniacs with a death wish crossing six lanes of motorway without signalling, predicting when taxis are about to stop on a sixpence with no warning because they've spotted a fare and the principle that swapping lanes puts you instantly in the wrong no matter what circumstances cause the collision, including willfully driving into you because 'it's my lane'.
In order to survive as a driver in the Middle East over the past 20 years, I have had to unlearn pretty much every rule of driving taught to me in my home country. I have no problem sitting a test here. I have a huge problem being told it's necessary because I don' t understand the traffic signs and safety requirements.
But the daftest proposal, and one that showed how outside consultants with no experience of the local environment can go impossibly wide of the mark, was that of insisting that taxi drivers should have two years' experience of driving in the UAE before they're taken on.
It's surely obvious to the most idiotic, drooling incompetent that only employing taxi drivers with 24 months' experience of driving in the UAE is a completely unworkable proposal and should never have made it past the unwise contribution the lippy intern made to the first working group discussion. And why you would propose safety legislation for taxi drivers when every misbegotten escapee from Tora Bora, Helmand and Swat is currently bombing around the UAE in bald-tyred, battered deathtraps hefting tons of rock, shit and cement, passes me by entirely.
In fact, the most sensible proposal in the whole article was made by a driving school owner, who presumably hadn't been consulted by the consultants. Ehad Esbaita, general manager of Emirates Driving Compan, suggested that professional drivers should have to undergo a more rigorous course of instruction and certification and that this would have an instant effect on road safety in the UAE.
I thought that one idea alone was worth everything the consultants had to say and more.