ABU DHABI // All new drivers could be required to take a series of 30 training sessions before getting a licence, under proposals to improve road safety tabled yesterday. They could also be banned from operating some types of heavy machinery until the age of 20. Other major reforms suggested by a UK consultancy hired by the federal Government included requiring taxi drivers to have at least two years of driving experience in the UAE before being allowed to work. Expatriates with existing licences from places such as the UK, Canada and Australia could also be required to pass UAE tests before receiving their licences. The proposals, aimed at unifying licensing, training and testing procedures across the country, were debated at a session attended by representatives from the consultancy, Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), as well as public and private transport officials. The TRL representatives said the proposals reflected international best practices, but some met with immediate resistance. The suggestion that taxi drivers should have 24 months of motoring experience here before working in the UAE, for instance, did not sit well with taxi officials. "This is not practical. We already have a shortage of drivers. We need 50 per cent more drivers every year than we already have," said Masood Hashem, the director of compliance, regulation and licensing at TransAD, the Abu Dhabi taxi regulator.
"The sector would die, and the salaries of taxi drivers will double." He said higher standards were important, but should be balanced against the availability of qualified drivers. TRL's Britta Lang emphasised that the recommendations were still in the consultation stage. Proposals that did not have support of the people affected such as the taxi recommendation, or another that would allow new drivers to learn from someone other than a licensed instructor would not be "forced" upon them. "Where maybe it is international best practice, the road network here may not allow it to be done in a sensible way," she said. The recommendations were debated over several hours yesterday, as a group of transport and traffic officials, representatives of public transport companies and training experts from the seven emirates worked towards toughening the licensing system. TRL will send out detailed questionnaires next week, Ms Lang said, and based on feedback, the proposals would be revised.
A final report will be presented by the end of this year to Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, said Col Gaith al Zaabi, the director of traffic for the ministry. It was suggested that expatriates from countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia, who, if they already hold a driving licence are exempt from passing the UAE driving test, be required to take a theoretical and practical exam before receiving their UAE licence. "The knowledge of local road safety requirements is quite incompetent," Ms Lang said. "Many people don't know the road signs and are not aware of the safety requirements."
TRL recommended the minimum age for obtaining a licence for heavy motorcycles or public transport vehicles should be 20 years old. "Increasing the minimum age for licences has proved effective in reducing accidents," Ms Lang said. She noted that many countries had graduated licensing schemes for young people because they tended to be involved in more traffic crashes. A 2004 Scandinavian study found that increasing the minimum age from 16 to 17 reduced new drivers' accidents by 10 per cent, while increasing it from 20 to 21 did so by five per cent. Among new categories proposed for new licences were two for motorcycles - light and heavy - and several for light vehicles, including private drivers hired by families, drivers of emergency vehicles and drivers who are physically handicapped. Dr Gehad Esbaita, general manager of Emirates Driving Company, agreed that anyone working as a driver should undergo additional training and licensing for their particular profession. "I've been addressing this issue since the launch of the company in 2003, and I am positive that by doing this, accidents committed by drivers will drop by 50 per cent," he said. He said the normal drivers' licence is enough for motorists who use the road between one and two hours a day, but professional drivers, who use the road up to 15 hours a day, should undergo special training, and should be physically fit and have special training. "The drivers' licence is like a high school diploma," he said. "People who want to specialise in a certain field go to university. And to become a driver by profession, one needs to specialise in that field." Representatives from driver training centres strongly opposed a proposal to allow new drivers to be trained by someone with significant driving experience, and not necessarily a professional teacher. "This is not professional at all," said Hany Kamal Mohamady, the manager of the test department for the Belhasa Driving Centre in Dubai. "Maybe it is acceptable in other countries but here it is different. "Now you are dealing with more than 200 nationalities in the same place."
Testing Add a section on detecting road hazards to the written exam Add an off-road driving test. Light vehicles 15 30-minutes classes for off-road training 30 30-minute classes for paved roads training Allow trainees who have passed their written and practical pre-test exam to drive when accompanied by someone with a licence Foreigners Mutual recognition of licences between the UAE and other countries should continue Holders of international licences, or licences issued from countries exempt from acquiring a new licence from scratch in the UAE, should undergo an eye test and written and practical exams Holders of licences from countries that are not exempt should undergo training, an eye test and written and practical exams Health Licence renewal and fitness check periods should vary according to licence category Applicants for licence renewal should testify on their health New drivers Ban on driving alone at night, or with teenage friends, for first two years Conduct an analysis of accidents involving new drivers to identify hazardous situations Minimum age Remains at 18 for all drivers 20 for heavy motorcycles 20 for public transport vehicles (plus previous driving experience of no less than two years) New licence categories Light vehicles hired by families Emergency vehicles Physically disabled