Thursday, 15 October 2009

Do UAE Driving Test Reform Ideas Miss The Mark?

An L-plate.Image via Wikipedia

The 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.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


the real nick said...

Ahhh, finally -a post about driving in the Emirates!

I am sure Mr. Ehad Esbaita, is entirely unselfish in suggesting "that professional drivers should have to undergo a more rigorous course of instruction.."
It must be pure coincidence that driving institutes such as Emirates Driving Company might benefit from such a requirement, surely.

I do not agree with the proposal that Westerners should have to pass a test again. I have driven in various places; In Rome, in London, in Istanbul, in India: I can tell the difference in driving standards, Alexander. British drivers must be about the safest in the World (definitely the slowest; there might be a correlation?).
I guarantee you that it is completely sensible to make non Westerners sit a test before letting them loose on the streets.

However, one of the most important issue was completely missed by the consultants - and the article - which is the appalling driving standards of Emiratis.

The UAE preaching to South Asians about driving standards is like the proverbial blind leading the on-eyed...

Seabee said...

While it's encouraging that the standard of driving is being looked at, the report is typical of those dreamed up by highly paid consultants. The few sensible suggestions are outweighed by the nonsense.

The worst to my mind is the mandatory 30 lessons for new drivers. Why 30? Why not 26, or 33? There are people who will never pass a fair test regardless of the number of lessons while others are natural drivers and can pass after only a handful of lessons. Driver knowledge and ability should be the yardstick, not an arbitary number of lessons.

For Brits, Aussies etc, well yes, a driving test here to demonstrate that we can actually drive on Dubai's unique roads would be fair, but driving lessons shouldn't be part of it.

Scott said...

I'm a Western driver, and I’ve seen plenty of Westerners here in Dubai with the driving skills of a turnip. The problem is that no amount of training will make a difference without enforcement. I see more and more police driving on SZR these days, but in three years I’ve only seen a handful of people actually get pulled over (and I bet it had nothing to do with failing to use a turn signal).
All long as the police turn a blind eye and rely on cameras, there is just not a lot of incentive to improve driving skills.

And British drivers must be about the safest in the World??? Oh lord please.

samuraisam said...

IMHO, enforce tint ban properly, and on-the-spot fines for people who don't use indicators would improve the driving situation immeasurably. They can enforce stuff until the cows home but until tint is properly controlled in the UAE driving will never, ever improve to a good standard.

As for driving with an experienced driver--it does work, although it is definitely not possible in congested neighborhoods.

Reducing the driving age to 16 would improve things a lot IMHO (that is if people are trained properly, placed on some sort of probationary license to begin with, and kickbanned from driving until they're 21 if they screw around when they do get their license)

In my opinion a lot of the problems here are just caused by laziness rather than lack of education--people don't indicate, don't give way and don't make any effort to drive properly.

There are lots of people with licenses from the UK/US/wherever who come over here and drive like incompetent idiots just because they can get away with it.

The number of people that drive around with phones planted to the sides of their head still amazes me.

Anonymous said...

All driver think they are the best.

But to assume that drivers from Western countries are better than the rest is just plain bullshit.

I've seen drivers from the subcontinent who were the best drivers on any road, anywhere.

Some of them argue that since they have driven under the worst conditions possible they can drive anywhere, very well.

And, since you know no point of view except yours, you would not know the conditions under which truckers drive and what they say about silly men and women in SUVs who keep trying to cut lanes in front of them endangering everyone! It's easy to blame truckers. You never sit with them and they certanly don't comment on your blog.

Ditto with cabbies - how would any cabbie come and drive in the UAE if he is not driving a cab? What visa does he get - wannabe cabbie? And how does he sustain himself? Maybe he has a rich dad in the UK, you think?

It is good to think from the customer's point of view. But is it not more sensible to ensure that cab companies make sure they train them on roads whilst giving them a learner's stipend (like a management trainee) instead of hiring them one day and putting them on the streets the next?

Mohammad said...

Nick, there are plenty of non-westeners who have driven for 5-6 years in the US/UK, but are not allowed to transfer their licences, On the other hand an Italian who has driven for 4 months in Italy can transfer his license. Go figure the logic behind that one.

As for Arabs, in their circles, many of them actually consider themselves the best drivers out here; westerners are generally considered "cowardly and slow".

Sam, in a news article a few days ago, an Emirati was saying how he had his car impounded and was fined thousands of dirhams for excessive tinting, and guess what, he still has it on. The police are under pressure whenever they go after anyone with "connections", and it is this "connections" business which encourages somepeople to drive like maniacs.

Truck drivers drove like maniacs in Abu Dhabi just 10 years back, however, immediate deportations for serious offences has made them fall in line.

Its just enforcement thats lacking, and I dont blame the police for that, there are cultural and social issues behind it...

the real nick said...

I don't quite follow you. If someone has driven for 5/6 years in the UK (admittedly I don't know about the US but I believe American license holders have to do the test already so this point is moot),then he/she would be in possession of a British license so should be able to transfer without problems.

the real nick said...

...but I do agree with you about pretty much everythig else you said.

Mohammad said...

Nick, a person can transfer his license only if he is a citizen of the license giving country; so as I said, an Italian can transfer a 4 month old Italian license, but a non-American citizen, be he British or Indian, cannot transfer a 4 year old US driving license....

Anonymous said...

real nick,
Mohammed is talking about people like me. I am an Indian citizen, have an Indian driving licence, got it on a stick shift (I even know how to stop/start on an incline on half-clutch without rear-ending into the vehicle whose bonnet is quite literally inhaling my exhaust pipes). I hardly drove after my driving classes, coz I never owned a car there; pretty good public Xport -- went to US, took maybe 3-4 hr of pvt classes just to get accustomed to RHS and freeways, and cleared the test. Drove across US for 2 years and pretty good (not a single blackpoints/fines/accidents). So you can say that whatever driving habits I had came from US.

On that respect I should be treated like any other American licence holder and allowed to xfer my licence, right? right? But no I can't.

Here it is from
"Transfer of Existing Driving License
You may be eligible to transfer your existing driving license, without having to take a driving test or going to a driving school, if you have a valid driving license from some countries. You have to be a citizen of the country given below with current resident status in UAE. This means that former residents from these countries who may be holding permanent driver licenses are not eligible and you will have to follow all the steps to get a new license as given here."

One would think it's just incorrect wording on that website, but no. I actually enquired about it and it means what it says on the tin. Apparently my skin colour is not of the right shade. If only I was a 19 yr old teenage American who just got his licence 6 months back, and not much but one or two charges of DUI and a couple of redlights jumped against my name, then surely I'd be safe to drive in UAE. Unfortunatley I am not. Ergo, I am unsafe to drive in UAE which can be rectified only after taking 20 or so classes and spend so much money while having the privilege of being treated like I am in a bread queue for my monthly rations in communist Russia every single time I visit Galadari driving school. If that's not outright discrimination, I don't know what is.

The solution is simple. Keep your driving schools and what not. But there is no bloody reason why everyone should go through them. As long as you clear your tests (and are not a nuisance on the roads during your learning stages with an L-plate and appropriate regulations like in any other country, including India) that's it..give licence to anyone; doesn't matter if s/he belongs to BurkinaFaso or if they've learned it from their dead grandparents in their farm. And if they don't know to how drive stop them even if they are from [insert Western nation of yr choice] with a 10 years licence.

It's bloody simple, eh? But no, here in UAE that's not how we deal with things. Every single regulation and law has to be massaged and framed in terms of nationalities and overgeneralisations. (For every Indian acting crazy behind the wheels, I can show you similar driver of nationality/skinshade of your choice, but really that isn't the answer and that's not what we should be focusing on). If the authorities and these outside consultants really want to make a difference maybe they should start by looking at the driving capability of the applicant.
One would think that should be the sole criteria for handing out licences, isn't it? If you want a licence, show us how good you can drive. Simple. But that means we are now going into logical territory and that's a dangerous place for the mind to wander.

Anonymous said...

I also like what Anon 16:43 said.

Mohammad said...

Anon, I feel your pain. Many people here (including expats) cannot think beyond overgeneralizations. They come with closed mindesets which dictate that everything has to be grouped to nationalities.

If they meet 2 Filipinos who are housemaids, they will simply be unable to accept it when see a Filipino engineer; its impossible, I thought all Filipinos are housemaids!

I hate it when I am asked for nationality everytime I need to get something done, except maybe when I am an the Carrefour checkout counter

Btw, to add salt to the wounds, a privileged country national can exchange even his learners license for a UAE driving license as long as he is a citizen

Anonymous said...

wow Mohammed, exchanging even the learner's licence for UAE licence - that's news to me. Any idea if it applies to all those 30+ countries, or only some 'super-privileged' set amongst them?

Mohammad said...

I think exchanging a learners license may not be allowed in the book, so my guess is that the person who processed didnt notice it wasnt a real license....

In my opinion driving tests should be mandatory for everyone applying for a licence in Dubai.

I just recently moved from Australia and I’m 17 years old, yet I got my Dubai licence in less than ten minutes. No tests, no questions asked, they only took a picture of me for my licence.

I didn’t even have my full licence in Australia. It was a ‘learners’ licence, which means I must always be accompanied by a ‘Full Licensed’ adult.

I know that the driving tests in Dubai are absolutely ridiculously hard, however it will still not change the driving lifestyle of Dubai (driving very fast, swerving dangerously in and out of lanes).


From The Dungeons

Book Marketing And McNabb's Theory Of Multitouch

(Photo credit: Wikipedia ) I clearly want to tell the world about A Decent Bomber . This is perfectly natural, it's my latest...