x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Testing times for new drivers

Getting your driving licence should be difficult. The tests involved should be fair but tough and conducted without any favouritism.

Getting your driving licence should be difficult. The tests involved should be fair but tough and conducted without any favouritism.

But the good news is that as of December, the Dubai RTA will introduce a tougher theory test for potential new drivers to take in order to get a learner's permit. The current test comprises just 10 questions about road signs. The new test, done via an electronic touch screen, will include 35 questions, including road signs, traffic safety awareness and scenario-based questions. It is a vast improvement on recognising 10 road signs, which is the kind of test a 10-year-old could pass.

There will also be lectures on road safety to attend. This is another step in the right direction and, hopefully, one that will ultimately result in an improved driving culture in the UAE. However, what is alarming is that illiterate applicants for a learner's permit can do the test via an audio-visual function. I am all for equal rights for people with learning difficulties but if someone needs the written test to be read out to them, they should probably brush up on their literacy skills before learning to drive.

When you are out on the roads, you need to make quick decisions based on information in the form of traffic patterns, the behaviour of other drivers and, of course, road signs. Some road signs, such as the red hexagonal stop sign, are pretty universal. On the road in Turkey, the red hexagons said "Dur", which is obviously Turkish for "stop" but it was the colour and shape of the sign that alerted me to hit the brakes.

Driving in any country presents challenges - from the fun but lethal roads around Monaco to the utter lack of lane discipline in Nepal - and these are not made any easier by poor language skills. In the UAE, most road signs are in Arabic and English. If you cannot read either language, you will be a menace in traffic. It is all well and good to know where you're going by memory and basic numeracy skills make speed limit signs easy to comprehend, but what about warning signs?

If you cannot quickly comprehend a sign warning of events such as an accident, flooded roads or bad traffic conditions, you will be at a massive disadvantage compared to other drivers. When you are out on the road, alone in your vehicle, without any audio-visual aids, you only have yourself to rely on to read the signs. I've visited countries where there are hardly any signs in English and it can be an intimidating experience. Imagine driving along, keeping an eye on the traffic, staying alert for other drivers' erratic behaviour - and, on top of all that, trying to decipher road signs that have little meaning to you. Would you feel safe and confident as a driver under these conditions? Would this be fair on the other people with whom you are sharing the road?

The basics of literacy should be mastered before taking on the added responsibility that comes with driving a car in a way that respects your own safety and that of others.