Business | Your Money

Save those dirhams if you want to learn to drive

Applicants spend thousands prior to road test, and even more if they fail first time

  • By Cleofe Maceda, Senior Reporter
  • Published: 00:00 July 11, 2012
  • Gulf News

Dubai: Learning to drive and getting a licence are definitely not cheap. They’re some of the biggest expenses new drivers have to contend with, even before they could factor in the cost of the car, registration, insurance, maintenance and traffic fines.

Any aspiring driver in the UAE easily spends Dh4,000 Dh10,000 — sometimes more — on mandatory lessons and repeat tests.

Unlike in many other countries, beginners in Dubai who don’t hold a valid licence are required to take at least 40 classes before qualifying for the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) test.

Depending on the driving institution, the first 40 lessons, including a host of training and test fees, can set a beginner back Dh2,000 to Dh5,000 at the first attempt, and the bill be several thousand more if they keep failing the exam. Each failed exam means eight more classes, repeat tests and added expense.

When he tried to secure a licence recently, Nap Franco, a Filipino expatriate who works in sales at a car showroom in Dubai, saw his expenses climbed from Dh2,900 to nearly Dh5,000 after failing two RTA exams. “I had set aside a budget for the first 40 lessons, but the succeeding extra classes were unexpected, so I had to find a way to stretch my money.”

Because he failed the test on two occasions, Franco logged a total of 56 driving lessons between December 2011 and April this year, before the RTA finally granted him the permit. Fortunately for him, his training package did not cost as much as in other driving schools, where the first 40 lessons alone would have set him back more than Dh5,000.

Franco’s driving course at Galadari consisted of lectures and behind-the-wheel training. Prior to the final road test with the RTA, he took an internal preliminary exam where his driving ability and knowledge of traffic laws were evaluated.

He demonstrated how to make a U-turn, park, change lanes and read road signs. The whole process was meant to simulate RTA’s road test, so he would have an idea what the final exam would be like. “If you don’t pass the internal test, you won’t be turned over to the RTA for the final exam.”

While Franco passed the internal test with a breeze, the RTA exam proved to be a hurdle. In his first attempt, he was in a car with two other applicants and an RTA examiner sitting in front. Each applicant would take turns in the driver’s seat. They drove for about 15 to 20 minutes on the highway and around a residential area.

“The examiner would mainly test how alert you are. He would intentionally confuse you, sometimes telling you to do things that you’re not supposed to. He could be really intimidating, so you need to keep your cool and be alert at the same time. You’re expected to follow his instructions to the letter and one slight mistake could ruin your chances of getting a licence,” he says.

When it was his turn to take the wheels, Franco felt uncomfortable because he was thrust into an unfamiliar location. He trained in Deira, but the final road test was in Al Qusais. The surroundings were completely different and it was very easy to lose focus. Consequently, he committed three major mistakes, including not turning properly and failing to sound the horn at the right time.”

“In my second take, everything was smooth until we drove into a residential area. I was driving at 38kp/h since the maximum speed limit was 40kp/h. The examiner said I was supposed to drive at exactly 40kp/h. I pleaded for him to reconsider because 38kp/h was still legally allowed, but he wouldn’t budge” he says.

Consequently, he failed. “I was completely let down after that and thought about quitting. But several weeks later, I decided to give it another try. Luckily, I passed. The whole process was really costly and time consuming, but I guess it was all worth it. I learned my mistakes and, in some ways, I believe that experience will serve as a strong foundation for me to become a good driver,” he says.

Those who wish to take a licence in the UAE will have to register with a driving institute. For light motor vehicles, students who don’t have any driving licence are considered a beginner and thus have to register for mandatory 40 classes that normally last 30 minutes. They can choose to register for either automatic or manual gear transmission.

Students will have the option to choose either regular weekday classes or shift duty classes, or Friday classes or VIP classes, each is priced differently. Weekday classes are generally the least expensive. Training for manual-operated vehicles is also cheaper than automatic, but automatic licence holders are not eligible to drive a manual gear vehicle. The waiting time for classes can take days and 40 classes can last several weeks, so those who prefer the faster route may opt for VIP classes.

The price and training structures may vary from one school to another, but At Emirates Driving Institute, beginners taking week day classes will pay a total of Dh5,270 for manual and Dh5,470 for automatic. Those who opt for Friday classes will pay Dh6,270, while VIP training will cost a total of Dh16,070.

The package cost already covers eye test, RTA admission and learning permit issuance fees, school admission fees, simulator training, lecture fees, assessment test, signal test, mock test and certificate and service charges, among others.

These prices are only prior to the first road test. Students will take several internal exams prior to the RTA exam, such as knowledge and parking tests, which will be administered after the 20th class and assessment test, which will be after the 36th class. The RTA test comes after the 40th class.

If the student fails in the RTA test, he will be required to take eight additional lessons, each costing Dh60 for manual and Dh65 for automatic. Those who fail the signal and assessment tests will also be required to reappear and pay the test fees accordingly.

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