RTA has introduced the Smart Yard for testing light driver license applicants Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Next time you are driving down a busy road in the UAE, you might want to look around and marvel at the fact that you are in the company of drivers from over 200 countries.

“Every new driver and expat must understand that the UAE is a multinational country. Imagine when these people drive on the road, how differently they may think, behave and respond to various situations,” says Khalid Javaid, Training and Technical Consultant, Emirates Driving Institute (EDI).

He asserts that different cultures, customs and, more specifically, imprinted behaviour play a critical role in the way people drive.

Abdulla Yousef Al Ali, CEO, Licensing Agency at Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), agrees that driving here is different due to diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, which makes “a common form of behaviour almost impossible”.

We always recommend new drivers to go through the minimum theory training at one of our driving institutes or some defensive driving courses

- Abdulla Yousef Al Ali, CEO, Licensing Agency at Roads and Transport Authority (RTA)

He adds, “We always recommend new drivers to go through the minimum theory training at one of our driving institutes or some defensive driving courses.”

Driving in the UAE

This sheer diversity of drivers in the UAE has made driving, as Javaid terms it, “an essential education”. Moreover, road safety has become top priority for the authorities. The result is a driving system that is highly advanced compared to most parts of the world.

Every new driver and expat must understand that the UAE is a multinational country. Imagine when these people drive on the road, how differently they may think, behave and respond to various situations.

- Khalid Javaid, Training and Technical Consultant, Emirates Driving Institute (EDI)

Javaid’s list of differentiators includes a comprehensive driving curriculum equipped with advanced and latest technologies, well-designed roads and sophisticated traffic systems, proper indications and signs dotting the roads, and an emphasis on strict adherence to traffic rules and regulations. “This unique system allows competent and courteous drivers to actively contribute and provide a safe driving environment for every road user,” he says.

Al Ali points out that in 2017 validity of the driving license was reduced from 10 years to one year for those under 21 and two years for new applicants aged above 21 years. “These changes have given the licensing authority more control over new drivers. Now, we have the option of taking corrective actions based on their behaviour.”

Comprehensive training systems

RTA has also introduced innovations such as the Smart Yard, which aims to deliver fair and accurate testing, while enhancing road safety by training new drivers to drive solo before getting their licenses. The system uses 36 cameras mounted all over the vehicle to keep track of specific manoeuvres, safety checks performed by the candidate, emergency braking distance, boundary lines for parking areas as well as slope roll back.

Currently, there are 15 Smart Yards spread across Dubai, and Al Ali insists this technology has not been used anywhere else in the world.

Another important update has been the switch to eLearing, first introduced in January 2017 and now adopted by all driving institutes. Al Ali believes this has improved the quality of theory lessons by introducing multiple interactive methods of learning. “Data shows that students who attended eLearning have better Knowledge Test passing results,” he says.

Besides, going digital has made it convenient for learners to take lessons anywhere and anytime at their convenience, and reduced the carbon footprint by having fewer classroom lessons.

RTA has consistently expanded its training modules, recently introducing articulated vehicle training for Heavy Motor Vehicle (HMV) learner drivers.

Al Ali observes that 60-80 per cent of HMV learners end up driving these vehicles after acquiring their licenses, but their training was not covered at driving institutes. “So, how did new drivers learn to drive articulated vehicles? It was observed that they acquired these skills from more experienced drivers. This was not ideal,” says Al Ali.

Therefore, in January 2017, the Drivers Training and Qualification Department introduced an additional theory lesson to cover requisite knowledge on articulated vehicles. It is backed by practical training in coupling/ uncoupling of prime mover and trailer, offset reversing a 40-foot trailer and driving a loaded 20-foot trailer.

Driving schools too are pitching in, leveraging best international practises to train learner drivers. Javaid offers examples such as the Theory Preparation Lecture module, made available in various languages, the introduction of free mock tests before RTA’s theory test, and allowing students to extend their training classes until they are ready to drive with confidence.

Meanwhile, virtual reality (VR) has also been put to good use with companies such as Dubai-based Creative Motion offering VR simulators to offer a taste of driving in the real world — the studio notes that its simulation programmes provide “full control of cities and streets in terms of location, congestion and training time (day or night)”. The best part: you won’t be hauled over if you cause an accident — simply reset the simulator and try again.