Source: The National 15 October 2009
Expatriates from places such as the UK, Canada and Australia would need to pass new tests before receiving their UAE driving licences, under proposals to improve road safety tabled yesterday.
Taxi drivers would be required to have at least two years of driving experience in the UAE before being allowed to work. Other major reforms suggested by a UK consultancy hired by the federal Government included requiring drivers to be at least 20 years old before they can operate some kinds of heavy vehicles and for all new drivers to undergo 30 training sessions.
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 currently exempt from passing the UAE driving test, should be required to take a theoretical and practical test 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 said 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.