Wednesday, May 23, 2007

License to... kill?

Yesterday, I accompanied my brother to his driving tests, to get his Motorcycle With Gear (MCWG) and Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) licences. The tests were simple enough. For a bike, one had to execute a figure of eight and a U-turn with the appropriate hand signals (left, right, stop) without resting one's feet on the ground. And for a car, all one had to do was drive 100 metres on the road near the testing office. Simple. Too simple?

In my opinion, the test for a motorcycle is sufficient. The ability to execute sharpish turns with a reasonable degree of confidence is probably good enough to serve as an indicator of a candidate's ability to drive. Once the basic maneuvering is in place, driving a bike on any terrain or under any condition is not very difficult.

The test for a licence to drive a car/LMV, however, is another matter altogether.

Driving a car down a straight road for 100 meters is hardly a test of driving ability. I am reminded of the driving tests my parents and their friends went through to get a licence in Dubai, where I spent my childhood. There, the entire affair was a painfully thorough one that tested multiple aspects of a driver's capability to handle a car. From what I've been told by those who've gone through it, some of the tests involved are as follows.

Test 1: Theory
This was an oral/written test on traffic signals, road signs, driving etiquette and what-if scenarios. The RTOs in Tamil Nadu (I don't know how things work in other states - in India, Driver and Vehicle registration is a State subject - but I guess it must be similar) check only one's knowledge of the road signs.

Test 2: Parking
This test comprises of two subtests, if I may use the term. One was garage parking, where the candidate had to back in to a small garage sized space, drive out, and then drive forward into the garage and back out of it. The second parking test was kerbside parking, which was a test of parallel parking on a street, and then taking the car out onto the street with the appropriate signals. I found that the only way in which the test I saw yesterday came remotely close to this was when the candidate had to pull out from the sidewalk onto the road. The ability to park straight (this test is critical given the tendency of people in Chennai to park every which way) is never tested, much less in reverse or at an angle.

Test 3: Hill
This is the one thing that occasionally worries me when I'm driving in Bangalore, my lack of experience with hills/slopes. I doubt I'll ever drive in San Francisco, but if I do it'll be a nightmare. In Dubai, the hill test evaluated a candidate's ability to start a car while on a hill/slope, drive up to the top and then drive downhill all in complete control of the car without it going off at any point in time. The candidate would then have to stop the car, start it again and go up the hill in reverse. Now that's a test.

Test 4: Road test
This involved about 20 to 40 minutes of driving around on the city roads, through intersections, roundabouts and the like to thoroughly test the candidate's ability to drive in all sorts of traffic conditions and all forms of road configurations.

All this is in stark contrast to the driving tests here. I didn't too well on my driving test a few years ago (the car stalled twice - once because I got stuck in a ditch and didn't accelerate enough and the other because it just wasn't my day.) Not to put too fine a point on it, I failed the test. All it took was a Rs. 100 bribe and I got my licence anyways. It was only after that that I really learnt how to drive confidently, thanks to long drives in the city with my father. I had attended some classes before the test, but I was far from a finished product at that time. So, in spite of not being able to drive 100 meters (hey, it included a turn!), I obtained a licence that was valid for 20 years!

Neighbouring Pakistan has an interesting policy, the Graduated Licensing System. If Government sources are to be believed, a driver is issued a probationary licence on passing his driving test, and this gets converted into a permanent licence after two years only if the driver hasn't committed any traffic violations in that period. In addition, there are some intermediate traffic classes every licence holder is expected to take in this period. From what I've read the system is just as corrupt there but it appears to be better, atleast on paper, and more geared towards issuing licences to those who can actually drive.

Sweden, Finland and the UK have specific guidelines on the number of hours of classes/instruction a candidate must undergo with a qualified instructor prior to testing and/or specific traffic courses every candidate must take (such as one on hazards). Australia, New Zealand and Canada have a series of licences which increasing probation timespans that one has to earn based on how long on has been driving without incident. Most developed countries have similar checks in place to regulate licence issue through either stringest testing criteria or more rational issuance of licences. [Source]

Reports indicate that the number of accidents is constantly on the rise (that's not very surprising). In India, on average one person dies every hour in road accidents. Tamil Nadu features six road accidents per hour. [Source] As an increasing percentage of the population gets their own wheels in these economically fantastic and consumerist times, it is imperative that some care is taken by the authorities to ensure that licences are issued to those who can really drive, and drive responsibly.

Someone could get killed.

N.B. Although I bribed my way to a licence, I am now a confident and capable driver with five years of driving experience. That said, my brother (with an official driving experience of one day) is probably better then me. Ah well, it isn't the first time the student has bettered the teacher ;)


praveen said...

A work which is to be done depends upon the amount which is paid(Only in india)...Things are always different in the western or the eastern countries ..Even i bribed the RTO for the licence and later started driving with confidence since i can blow any body`s back...its all happens ..if you are in india its better to take these issues lightly and proceed further.....


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I bribed the RTO for my licence as well. Like RPK says, that's just the way things are and one just has to play the game.

Interesting post, very different from your normal style. I didn't think you were capable of being serious! :)

abdul said...

who're u and what did u do to AC?

AC said...

@ RPK and Anonymous:
Yeah, I agree... it's just so ingrained in the system now, there's not much that can be done. In the interest of convenience and, quite simply, getting one's job done and being able to move on in life, one just has to join in the corruption. Ah well, it doesn't cost much to dream of a better system :)

AC said...

LOL, Abdul! Yeah, I know it's rather different from the kind of stuff I write... but a little variety isn't a bad thing :)

Arjun/Srikrishnan Ganesan said...

hey part 3 da. the prof is out of svce now... and yeah... the college sucks xcept for a few profs and i dont want to have anything to do with the rest of the college - let alone follow the story.
and my comment for your driving test thingy: we need those hill tests even for chennai - last week we were in this situation where a lady cldnt take her car out of a basement parking in a car...

Sheks said...

Useful info,specially the part about the driving tests in Dubai.

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AC said...

Hi GB... yeah, in an ideal world the training/testing regimen would be uniformly strict everywhere...

@ sheks: Wow, it isn't often that someone describes my blog as useful! Thanks, you just made my day! :)

Priti R said...

The Dubai driving test reminds me of my mom turning into a mini-celebrity when she got her license in abu dhabi in the second attempt :)

Nice blog, btw. Have read it in bits and parts. :)