Dubai is known for its strict driver licensing regime. Many inexperienced drivers have flunked the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) tests several times and it is normal to see applicants taking two or four attempts with an examiner prior to licence issuance. The highest number of attempts recorded so far in Dubai is 20.

Many people believe that it is relatively more difficult to secure a driver’s permit in the UAE than elsewhere. Others also question whether the mandatory in-school trainings are really necessary or whether the education standards are really strong.

A quick survey among expatriates who took their licences from accredited countries like the UK, France or United States showed that student drivers abroad also go through rigorous and long hours of training prior to taking the road test, but there is no required number of classes before and between road tests.

The intensity of the trainings depends largely on the experience and the ability of the individual to learn. Some expatriates interviewed by Gulf News took only 12 hours of formal lessons, while others went through 40 hours of training, but these were not mandatory. Many learned to drive with a friend, brother or other experienced drivers outside the school, something that is not allowed in the UAE.

Hind Bellouk got his driving licence in France after around 40 hours of driving lessons. “It was not that difficult because my father taught me how to drive before. I passed the test right away,” he said.

Ian Evans, a British sales manager, logged 10 professional lessons with the British School of Motoring, in addition to the 10 hours of practice with his father, before securing the licence in 1982. There was no theory test at that time, but Evans had to answer random Highway Code questions from the examiner before or after the practical test. At today’s rates, the training and licence fees would have cost him around Dh2,300.

No mandatory tests

Evans said it is not mandatory to take additional lessons between tests. “In the UK, you are given a provisional licence which allows you to practise with a qualified driver. Given the poor general level of driving and the lack of adherence to road discipline in the UAE, I would definitely not recommend this strategy here,” he added.

However, Flora Howard, who works in customer services, spent 35 hours of lessons that cost about Dh17,000 before she managed to secure her licence last February in the UK.

“In England, there isn’t a minimum number of lessons you have to take or a standard number of lessons you must take after failing a test. My lessons were 1.5 hours long because it’s best to have a longer lesson to get a realistic simulation of driving.”

Another expat from the UK, Steve Gregory believes it is easier to get a licence elsewhere. “Some countries have formal training regimes, and others don’t, but I believe it is relatively difficult to pass a test in the UAE. However, this doesn’t mean that the UAE has strong standards, it simply means that the quality of instruction is the weakest I have ever seen anywhere in the world.

Gregory took his test nearly 40 years ago in Germany. Prior to attending a driving school, he took a weekend first aid course and an eye test. Having received his certificate, he registered with a driving school and started three months of classroom study and an exam prior to getting into a car.

He was trained on road signs, safe driving, positioning of the car, driving at night, emergencies, etc. By the time he got into a car, he needed only 12 lessons and passed the test in his first attempt. “Twenty years later, I was able to exchange my German licence for a UK one when I went to live there. When I came to the UAE 10 years ago, my UK licence was sufficient to earn me a UAE one without lessons.”

Rules won’t be relaxed

Ahmad Hashim Bahrozyan, CEO of the licensing agency at the RTA in Dubai, agreed that it “could be a bit easier” to get a license in other countries, but Dubai isn’t ready yet to ease its rules by allowing non-instructors to train applicants and scrap the mandatory classes prior to a road test.

He pointed out that the RTA has already done several initiatives to improve the quality of instruction and ease the application process. He said they have recently introduced the unified driver training curriculum, and the passing rate for licence applicants has vastly improved, from 17 per cent five years ago to a little over 30 per cent recently.

“We have to understand that Dubai has improved a lot in terms of road safety in the last few years. And we may not be in the mature stage to allow other people to train their children on how to drive, this could be something to look into in the future, but I personally don’t think we’re ready for that kind of a big step forward,” Bahrozyan told Gulf News in a phone interview.

“I believe that in countries such as Australia and advanced European countries where road safety is really the best in the world, the awareness of an average individual of road safety is a lot higher than that in Dubai,” he added.

Bahrozyan, however, said there is a possibility of making some changes in the system whereby the number of required classes will be dependent on individual driving skill or ability to learn. “We’re looking at the possibility of introducing a self-regulating system where the number of lessons required prior to a re-take will depend on the number of mistakes that the applicant does in the previous test.”

Improving instructor quality

Bahrozyan also agreed that the quality of training here is not on par with other countries, so they’re also looking at improving the quality of driver trainers. He acknowledged that while it is mandatory in other countries for instructors to be university graduates, Dubai does not require driving institutes to hire only degree holders. Doing so, he cautioned, might lead to an increase in training costs.

“But hopefully, before the end of this year, we will be able to introduce a programme where we will have to retest and re-qualify all our driving instructors to make sure that they meet a certain set of standards. At the same, we’re also conscious about not increasing the price of training, because obviously, if driving schools hire more qualified instructors, their salaries will also increase.”