Lowering the driving age could cause insurance premiums to go up. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Insurance companies are expecting a rise in fees if the draft law on reducing the legal driving age is passed, insurance officials in the capital said today (Tuesday).

The Policies and Strategies Council at the Ministry of Interior is discussing the possible reduction of the legal driving age in the capital, as reported by Gulf News earlier this month.

According to the Council, the move will ease the ability for minors to carry out household duties for their parents when needed.

The discussions suggest that those below 18 would only be allowed to drive in the presence of an adult who is over the legal driving age and is next of kin. In addition, minors would only be permitted to drive vehicles where speed limiters are installed.

“Currently, those under the age of 25 are required to pay 30 per cent more for full-insurance coverage in most companies. If the draft law was passed and teenagers aged 17 are allowed to drive, then I imagine that number would increase for them,” an insurance broker from a local insurance company told Gulf News.

“Roughly, we can say that 70 per cent of traffic accidents are caused by those aged between 18 and 23,” he said. “Youth on the roads pose the greatest risk and so insurance companies try their best to increase the prices for drivers belonging to this age group.”

Major General Mohammad Al Zafein, chief of Dubai Police Traffic Department, told Gulf News that “many teenagers drive their parents’ cars behind their backs or borrow their older siblings’ car — or even a friends’ car — which is very dangerous.”

He believes the minimum age for obtaining a driving licence should be lowered from 18 to 16 — but only after a driver has received more than 100 hours of intensive and practical training.

“By allowing them to obtain a licence after acquiring the appropriate knowledge, we are saving their lives,” Al Zafein said.

Amer Ahmad Belhasa, managing director of Emirates Driving Institute, told Gulf News that since the announcement of a possible lowering of the driving age, there has been a strong and mixed response. He said teenagers are phoning in to apply for their licence, but driving institutes and officials at the Roads and Transport Authority are generally not in favour of the proposal.

“We don’t feel comfortable,” Belhasa said. “Eighteen is not the right age. Even with this age, we have to enforce a lot of rules to make it safe to drive for these young adults and for the people on the road.”

He believed that lowering the age limit will only make the roads more unsafe.

“We learn from our experiences, “ Belhasa said. “We are not changing our minimum age limit.”

In the capital, Emirati parents have no cap on the number of vehicles they can purchase under their name — whereas expats are limited to two cars per individual.

“Parents end up purchasing cars for their children under their name to reduce the cost of insurance,” the insurance officials told Gulf News. “However, if a driver under 25 was found guilty of causing a car accident, then they would have to bear 10 per cent of the cost to repair the vehicle they were driving regardless of whom it may belong to.”

According to statistics from the Department of Economic Development in Abu Dhabi, the capital faces Dh3.5 billion worth of damage due to accidents. Across the region, road accidents are the leading cause of death for those between 15 and 25.

Officials at the Ministry of Interior declined to comment on the lower driving age proposal. But the ministry said that it is increasing the number of patrol cars on Abu Dhabi roads as the spring break approaches for many students. The ministry also warned students not to drive recklessly and to refrain from street racing.

Brigadier Hussain Ahmad Al Harthi, Director of the Traffic and Patrols Directorate at Abu Dhabi Police, revealed that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management and the Abu Dhabi Traffic and Patrols Department to allow street racing enthusiasts to practise motorsports safely at the circuit on Yas Island.

Maryam Mirza is an intern at Gulf News