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UPDATED: May 5, 2015 NO.19 MAY 7, 2015
Are Self-Taught Drivers Safe Enough?


In China, the major channel through which people obtain driving licenses is to attend driving schools. Those who wish to be granted a license must attend a minimum of 64 hours of driving classes held by training schools, with tuition fees ranging from 5,000 yuan ($805) to 10,000 yuan ($1,610). High fees, coupled with corruption in driving schools and traffic management departments, have fueled appeals for allowing driving license applicants to obtain licenses without having to go to a driving school.

According to the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), such a pilot program will be rolled out this year. Although the details have yet to be publicized, it is anticipated that those who wish to obtain a driver's license can learn the necessary skills on their own before registering online for an examination.

This news has quickly attracted extensive attention across the country. Many believe that it is a good policy that will help applicants gain driving licenses more easily, more cheaply and more efficiently. However, doubts remain. Concerns tend to focus on the conflicts between China's current traffic security laws, which only allow trainees to use instructor cars under the instruction of their coaches, and the new policy that allows applicants to learn to drive in a manner of their choosing before taking the tests. Nowadays, driving schools still possess a monopoly status with advantages such as professionally accredited instructors and dual-control cars.

Good news

Yuan Bao (www.cnhubei.com): Owing to the monopoly held by driving schools, the public has no choice but to go to these schools despite the exorbitant fees. Meanwhile, as too many people want to take driving tests and the quota is limited, many people have to wait for a place. Almost all learners have had the experience of having been obliged to bribe their coaches during the period of instruction, in order for them to receive efficient training and successfully pass the tests.

The decision by the MPS to allow potential drivers to drive without having to go to driving schools will undoubtedly offer more choices for those seeking a driving license. With this new policy implemented, existing driving schools will be made much less crowded, the fees are expected to drop and making appointments for driving lessons will be much easier.

In this way, the government will no longer interfere with the public's freedom of choice as to how to learn to drive. Prospective drivers will be able to choose to learn from private coaches or to go to driving schools. Capable driving coaches will help trainees learn to drive in a way that more specifically suits them, while trainees can have more opportunities to practice, which can boost the effectiveness of training.

Leng Yuyan (www.hebei.com.cn): To be able to get a driving license without having to go to driving schools is undoubtedly good news for those who want to get a license. For most Chinese drivers, the experience of obtaining a driving license is a miserable one.

Many have to go to wait their turn in early morning or late at night, but are allotted only a very short period of time in which to actually practice. It really puts a strain on those who are busy with work and other commitments and have only a limited amount of spare time on the weekends. Sometimes, the trainees have to endure psychological torture at the hands of their coaches. What frustrates applicants most are the high fees charged and the various kinds of corruption endemic to the industry.

When people are able to get driving licenses without attending driving schools, the viability of such ventures will be dealt a blow. As a result, these schools will have to standardize their practices, accord stricter penalties to driving instructors who engage in unprofessional practices and make training more efficient, so as to attract more learners. There should also be detailed laws and regulations to make the pilot program more feasible in practice.

Driving schools have developed close connections with the traffic authorities. When the traffic authorities grant driving licenses to those who learn to drive on their own, driving schools are actually losing out financially. The authorities must treat all license applicants equally, while supervision from the higher authorities should be increased.

Distant dream

Mao Jianguo (Dazhong Daily): It is the hope of many people to get a license without having to go to driving school. However, perhaps they will have to wait a little bit longer before their dream comes true. Traffic security laws demand that learners should use dual-control cars to practice driving skills on the roads under the tutelage of instructors. Only driving schools possess full-time coaches and coach cars.

Even if that day really comes, things will not become perfect overnight. No one is born able to drive a car. Drivers without professional training pose a risk to themselves as well as others when driving. At the same time, those who can drive are not necessarily able to teach how to drive. Without admission criteria for instructors, terrible consequences may ensue.

Although allowing applicants to get a driving license without having to attend driving schools is an attractive new policy, its potential role in correcting the dismal state of the driving instruction market is quite limited. We have also noticed that the pilot program allows applicants to book driving tests by themselves. According to media reports, applicants need only learn basic driving skills and the associated knowledge in a short driving course, and then they can book road tests after doing enough exercises. It's important to ensure that private coaches that assist applicants with the exercises are fully capable of training drivers.

Another problem is that within the current training system, trainees have practically no right to express their opinions. When they are unfairly treated or asked to give bribes to coaches, trainees don't have effective legal channels available through which to seek remedy. Is it possible to build an online platform where learners can express their opinions on the training experience and their feelings, as a guide for new learners? It is also necessary to set up a database to trace old trainees' driving records. As drivers' performance is closely connected to the training they receive in driving schools, schools that frequently produce "dangerous drivers" should thus be cautioned or even stripped of their accreditation.

Zhu Changjun (Yangcheng Evening News): It is reported that applicants can choose to learn to drive as they please after acquiring basic driving knowledge and skills in driving schools. Who decides whether or not one has reached the basic requirement for driving? Do these schools have the final say? If so, the prevalence of fraud and bribery is still conceivable.

The reforms are supposed to reduce the various hurdles one encounters in the process of learning how to drive, while ensuring the testing process is taken more seriously. The biggest problem under the current system is that driving schools have monopolized the area of driver education, but the efficacy of their teaching methods has not been held to any rigid or objectively defined set of standards or criteria.

The reforms are expected to grant applicants sufficient rights in the process of getting a driving license while ensuring public security on the roads. Learners should be given the right to choose where they learn and when they take tests. Driving schools should operate solely as training agencies, and be precluded from involvement in the testing of applicants. Tangible progress in the reforms is hard to achieve if the present operation model remains as is.

Copyedited by Eric Daly

Comments to:yanwei@bjreview.com

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