If results of the driving tests conducted by the regional transport offices (RTOs) are anything to go by, the city has one of the most skilled set of motorists in the world. Only a handful of applicants fail the test, and getting a driving licence is almost a certainty.
The failure rate for two-wheeler licence applicants in the city is as low as 11 per cent. To give a comparison, the average failure rate in the United Kingdom is 67 per cent. Getting a licence is tougher in cities such as London.
According to statistics from the Transport Department, while 645 applicants appear for a driving test every day across vehicle categories, about 110 of them do not pass the test, which amounts to a failure rate of 17 per cent.
“It is an open secret that some do not even take the test,” says R. Vijesh, who relies on agents to get work done at the Regional Transport Office. “Most candidates have to just appear to pass the test,” he says.
A study on corruption in India's driving licence issuing system published in 2008 by the International Finance Corporation, a wing of the World Bank, says that on an average, individuals pay about twice the official amount to obtain a licence and very few take the legally required driving test, resulting in many unqualified yet licensed drivers. “Corruption not only raises the price of services but also causes serious social distortions” in the form of increased road accidents, the study observes.
A. Ravichandran, who runs a driving school, says that everything runs on “adjustment.”
While a two-wheeler licence involves a fee payment of Rs.350, candidates going through driving schools pay Rs.1,000. “The testing is not at all stringent. All that the candidate has to do is move the vehicle. Since everyone cannot be passed, some are failed arbitrarily,” he says.
In order to curb malpractices in the licence issuing process, instructions were issued a couple of years ago to ensure a failure rate of at least 10 per cent. But ways have been found to work-around the ceiling.
According to Mr.Ravichandran, most of those who fail on the first attempt go back on the eighth day. The premise behind the rule is to give the candidate a week's time to perfect his driving skills.
“We fudge records to show they attended three extra days of class. RTO officials are not interested in ensuring the road-worthiness of a candidate and the candidates do not mind paying. No wonder driver behaviour on the city's roads is abysmal,” he adds.
While over 3,000 driving licences are issued across the State every day, RTOs in Chennai alone issue 625 licences a day.
A Motor Vehicle Inspector said that unless the road safety fund is utilised to ensure that each RTO has a quality testing track that can be used to scientifically evaluate a candidate's road worthiness, the practice of limited or no testing would continue.
Bangalore has evolved a novel way to address the issue of both subjectivity and human interference in driver testing. The city recently started using its first automated driver-testing track which has a set of computers that monitor and time the entire test, including reversing, kerb parking, and uphill driving. There is no room for argument because the examiner is a machine.
Transport Commissioner M.Rajaram said that CCTV cameras would soon be introduced in RTOs to monitor and keep a record of the tests. “We hope it will instil a sense of better discipline. Use of simulators is also being considered. However, everyone must understand that mere physical infrastructure is not enough.”