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How the new, stringent driving tests will save lives on Indian roads

Below is an analysis of the glaring flaws in India’s driver licensing apparatus and how the new measures on how one can obtain a driver’s licence can fix them

March 26, 2021 / 09:12 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

Earlier today, Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs Minister Nitin Gadkari stated, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha, that new and stringent tests will be required to clear one’s driving test, in order to obtain a driving licence. The statement also mentioned the fact that a more demanding passing percentage will be made mandatory across all states, along with sessions on Automated Driving Test Tracks before the real-world driving test.

As with many of Gadkari’s recent moves, this comes as a welcome change to the status quo. But before we assess the benefits of the proposed driving test rules, it’s important to know just why these changes aren’t just necessary, but long overdue.

It’s commonly known that a staggering percentage of drivers on Indian roads do not possess a valid licence. It’s also an openly acknowledged fact that licences can be easily acquired without undergoing a rigorous driving test, by the mere act of showing up at the RTO.

According to Piyush Tewari, founder of the SaveLife Foundation—a not-for-profit organisation that has proven crucial in accident prevention, and in safeguarding India’s urban and highway networks—the common factor behind most road accidents today include overspeeding, drunken driving and wrongful overtaking. The latter becoming an increasingly prominent factor in highway accidents, as anyone who has driven over 10km on Indian roads can attest.

Plenty Of Shortcomings In Existing Programmes

Our current driver training programmes, or lack thereof, have not been able to instill basic lane discipline. As a result, cars often occupy the right-most lane, or the fast lane, prompting drivers to overtake from the left.

Apart from conducting extensive surveys into the causes of road accidents, the SaveLife foundation also works with Union and state governments in managing some of the country's busiest highway networks – 2,000 km of them, to be specific. All of this is done pro bono, and has allowed Tewari to have considerable insight into the chief causational factors behind road accidents.

“Overspeeding, not using seatbelts, helmets and wrongful overtaking are the main causes. The average driver also has no idea about the impact of alcohol on motor functions or the fact that the unbelted rear passenger can become a projectile in a car that’s hurtling towards a collision point,” he said.

What Are The New Driving Test Rules?

So how will the new rules, once imposed, change that?

For starters, Gadkari has stated that the process will be largely automated, and will not require human intervention. This will not only reduce the footfall in RTOs, but also circumvent a system that has, in the past, proven to be ripe for corruption and manipulation.

“For the longest time, certification has been done at the discretion of the RTO motor vehicle inspector. This made DLs a source of income for people and in the past, there hasn’t been enough political will to change this” said Tewari, whose organisation was responsible for having the Good Samaritan Law passed by the Supreme Court, back in 2016.

“At present due to the lack of a demanding examination, people do not feel the need to undergo proper training. Once you implement a rigorous testing procedure, people will be forced to go through thorough driver training programmes,” he said.

Tewari also attests that driving tests in Delhi have become more stringent. “I went to renew my licence recently at an automated testing facility in Delhi, and there were plenty of candidates who failed the test,” he confirmed.

By setting the passing percentage to 69 percent, the government will have set a precedent that would require each driver to take license acquisition as seriously as one would any academic entry test. Imagine driving on roads where one doesn’t have to base one’s driving behaviour around the next car? Where turn indicators are used properly.

This might seem like a pipe-dream, but with applications for tests available online, RTOs wouldn’t be overwhelmed by applicants. According to a survey conducted by SaveLife in 2017, only 41 percent drivers on the road had undertaken a legal driving test.

While these numbers have improved, according to Tewari, with 11 million new applicants on the road every year, people still don’t know anything about blind spots, safe parking, minimum driving distance on-road. “In Singapore, they have a government operated training and testing facility, after going through that, candidates are able to clear the tests.”

We already have a template for something similar. One school for every district. According to the new rules, with an automated testing facility attached to each district’s RTO, this should make the implementation of training applicants at district level, much more streamlined, ultimately leading to the main goal : safer driving and fewer casualties.

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Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.
first published: Mar 26, 2021 09:12 pm