By Ashfaq Ahmed, Chief Reporter www.gulfnews.com
Dubai: All professional drivers — including taxi drivers, will now have to undergo a full medical check-up to ensure they are physically fit to drive, a senior official said.
“We are going to make sure that all professional drivers are medically fit to drive to ensure the safety of passengers and other road users,” said Ahmad Hashim Behroozian, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Licensing Agency at the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). Currently, only an eyesight test is conducted before a driving licence is issued.
He said the validity of professional driving licences, including the licences for drivers of taxis, trucks, buses and mechanical vehicles, would be reduced from the existing 10 years to five years.
“Existing professional drivers will also have to undergo a full medical check-up at the time of renewal of their licences to ensure their fitness,” he said, adding details about the new requirements would be announced soon.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Behroozian talked about the steps the Licensing Agency is taking to improve driving standards in Dubai in addition to enhancing services for vehicle registration. He also talked about the challenges the Agency is facing and his plans for 2010. The Licensing Agency is responsible for matters related to vehicle registration and driving licences.
The following are excerpts from his interview:
Gulf News: What are the Licensing Agency’s plans to improve the driving culture and motorists’ skills in Dubai?
Ahmad Hashim Behroozian: We have dedicated 2010 to improve the driving skills of motorists by introducing several new measures including an improved driving curriculum for driving institutes.
The Agency has studied the existing driving courses being offered by driving institutes and has spotted a number of weaknesses in the training process of new drivers. It was noted different driving institutes have different methods and courses to train drivers and this factor has led to confusion on the roads.
A unified drivers’ training curriculum to have standard training procedures for new drivers is being developed and will be introduced by the end of this year.
What are the weaknesses of drivers in Dubai?
Our studies have shown that drivers in Dubai aren’t exposed to different driving conditions. Currently, even if a driver passes their driving test and gets a licence, he is not exposed to different driving conditions, such as at night. Also, it is difficult to break old habits of drivers coming from different nationalities.
The new unified curriculum will expose them to a variety of driving conditions and give them confidence through standardised driving skills.
There is a general perception most trainee drivers are not fairly tested and are deliberately failed several times by the RTA examiners as a policy to keep the number of new drivers down? What do you say?
The RTA examiners give a fair chance to students and we don’t put any pressure on them either to fail or pass people — as there is no such policy.
In fact, we improved the pass rate from 16 per cent to 26 per cent last year and we want to improve it even further.
However, the Agency is taking various steps to improve the test system. We have asked driving institutes not to forward students for testing if they are not fully trained and ready for road exams.
We have also prepared a new score sheet for the RTA examiners and all of them will have to follow the testing system drawn on the score sheet.
We have identified a number of mistakes. Some are critical and others are minor. A candidate has to score a 75 per cent pass rate in the minor mistakes category but he will be failed immediately in case he commits any of the critical mistakes. Some of the critical mistakes include not wearing a seat belt and endangering other road users.
There have been complaints of a long waiting time to take driving tests. Has there been any progress on this issue?
The waiting time for students to take a test has drastically reduced from three months to two to four weeks and in some cases even less than that. The waiting time for women drivers to take a test is only one week. We have managed to reduce the time by increasing the number of examiners to more than 100 and starting two shifts for conducting exams.
Also, we have instructed the examiner to let a candidate drive for at least 15 minutes to test his driving skills. But in the case of a critical mistake such as endangering road users, the examiner has the right to terminate the test immediately.
There are reports of a huge number of vehicles with expired registrations using the roads, posing a great danger to road users? What steps are you taking to end this phenomenon?
The RTA in coordination with Dubai Police is taking strict measures to make motorists register vehicles with expired registration. We are in talks with insurance companies to stop providing cover for such vehicles with expired registration. We also recommended the Ministry of Interior to introduce hefty fines for offenders.
There are around 80,000 vehicles with expired registrations.
Have you witnessed an increase in the number of registered vehicles in 2009?
Yes, we recorded a 2.5 per cent increase in the registration of new vehicles in 2009 but it is quite low compared to a 17 per cent increase in 2008. Some 24,884 new vehicles have been registered increasing the total number of registered vehicles in Dubai from 996,997 in 2008 to 1,021,880 vehicles in 2009.
What are your plans to improve your services this year?
One of our key objectives this year for customer service is to diversify our delivery channels . Most of our customers are still dealing with us face to face but we want to divert them to online services. We are heading towards paperless transactions by introducing more e-services. We are also working on plans to link our services with various government departments.
Accurate appointments: Software under way
Sultan Abdullah Al Marzouqi, Director of the Driving Licensing Dept at the RTA’s Licensing Agency, said work is progressing in developing software for the electronic programming of test appointments which will be implemented this year. “The examinee will be able to obtain a test appointment through multiple channels ..to obtain a specific and accurate appointment.”