x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Tighter rules proposed for young drivers

A proposed provisional licence would limit the kind of cars young people can drive.

Under a proposal, young drivers would have to acquire a certain amount of experience before taking a final test to gain a full driving licence.
Under a proposal, young drivers would have to acquire a certain amount of experience before taking a final test to gain a full driving licence.

DUBAI // A nationwide system requiring young drivers to start with a provisional licence and work their way up to full driving privileges has been proposed by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). Drivers aged 18 to 24 would improve their skills and get into fewer accidents under the system, said Ali al Jasim, the director of the RTA licensing department.

"Restrictions are more important than deciding what age they should be allowed to drive," Mr al Jasim said. Under a provisional licence, young drivers would not be allowed to have high-powered cars and would be banned from motorways. They would also be required to have a qualified, experienced driver beside them at all times. Only after gaining a certain amount of experience would they be allowed to sit for a final test to gain a full driving licence. "We have studied these initiatives and we have recommended them to the relevant authorities," Mr al Jasim said.

"It is a matter of unifying it across the roads. We are discussing with the police across the country." The proposal also calls for follow-up testing to ensure that newly licensed drivers are meeting certain standards. Such a programme, coupled with stronger enforcement on the streets, would improve driving in the Emirates, Mr al Jasim said. "Once a person gets the driving licence, he is a different person," he said. "You need a post-licensing programme to make sure he behaves properly and according to the rules and regulations."

The US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says a graduated licensing system such as the one proposed by the RTA can help young drivers mature more quickly. Similar systems are used in New Zealand and parts of Australia, the US and Canada. Some US states have a three-stage system. In the first stage, young drivers receive a provisional licence and cannot drive unless they are accompanied by a licensed adult.

After passing the first test, they receive an intermediate licence that grants limited driving privileges. They cannot drive in high-risk situations, such as on motorways or at night, without supervision. A licence with full privileges is issued only after they have progressed through the first two phases. Even then, during the first six to 12 months, there are restrictions on unsupervised night driving.

And if young drivers break any rules, their licence can be suspended. Major Gen Mohammed al Zafein, the director of the Dubai Police traffic department, suggested last week that the minimum age for obtaining a licence should be lowered from 18 to 16, but only after a driver has received at least 100 hours of practical training. Currently, drivers must be at least 18 to obtain a licence, but training and testing requirements vary across the emirates.

Gen al Zafein said the change would help solve the problem of untrained, underage teenagers getting behind the wheel illegally. But Mr al Jasim said the focus should be on those who had already obtained their licence. A lower age limit would only work if the laws were heavily enforced, he said. "We do not want to open files for people who are 16 years old without having restrictions on the streets and programmes starting in the home and educational institutions."

He said young drivers should be made aware of the consequences of driving from an early age. "It should start with their parents," Mr al Jasim suggested. Several countries allow 16-year-olds to drive, but the laws would need to be heavily enforced if the UAE were to allow driving at that age. "The lower you go [in age], the more enforcement there should be," he said. Meanwhile, the RTA licensing department will soon begin new measures for issuing licences. Motorists will have to sit for a new theory test before they take practical lessons. The move, which will bring the test in line with several European countries, will be the first of its kind in the region.

Currently, the RTA requires at least 20 hours of practical lessons with a simple theory test before people begin to drive. The new theory test is expected to be in place during the first half of 2010, Mr al Jasim said. @Email:eharnan@thenational.ae