CHENNAI: Sitting inside the rather warm single room office of Subha Driving School, located opposite the Regional Transport Office (RTO) in Ayanavaram, I waited for a couple to finish asking questions about the procedure to obtain a licence. After a few minutes, I was able to speak to a man sitting behind a desk. Although I held a valid licence, I sought details about learning classes.
“It is `5,000 for car and additional `2,500 for two wheeler. You will drive 5km everyday and that can be scheduled as per convenience,” he said. For those who are aware, the fee charged by such driving institutes include the licence fee that is applicable at RTOs. I then decided to pose another question. “What about theoretical knowledge? Will there be a separate class?” With a laugh, he said: “You will get to drive from the start.”
This is a scene commonly played out in other institutes in the city. The theoretical knowledge about the vehicle and road safety is relegated to low priority. The dos and don’ts are either avoided or given as ‘on-the car’ instructions. As in the case of a driving school in Anna Nagar, a one-time video about the car’s specification is played out for prospective drivers. They are also given a book containing some road safety signs.
The driver thus risks not knowing important elements like vehicle safety check, controls and instruments and highway rules. At present, the driver’s knowledge about road rules is tested by just six questions at RTOs. The computer-based test constitute the bulwark of the process for obtaining the learner’s licence (valid for one month).
As the member of National Road Safety Council, Kamal Soi has been at the forefront of the campaign for road safety. He points out that in a country where some people find it difficult to read ‘ABC’, it is easy for them to obtain the driving licence. “This leads to the question whether drivers are trained and tested adequately.”
Similarly, M Radhakrishnan, organiser of Thozhan, a road safety NGO, wondered whether our drivers are educated. “A youth is given an 800cc bike to drive. His natural instinct would be to take it for a ride, but are we teaching him the bike’s limitations and capabilities?”
While comparison is not always helpful, Radhakrishnan stated that the testing process abroad is a more drawn out affair. “Theory classes are given importance and it is only after that you are even allowed to drive,” he said.