Kerala driving aspirants stuck in neutral

With the new driving-licence norms based on the amended Central Motor Vehicle Rules kicking in, driving schools in Kerala stopped work from May 2 in protest. While the agitation was called off on May 15, a good number of them feel that many stipulations are impractical or needless as Motor Vehicles Department has not been able to get something as basic as sufficient number of driving test grounds, reports John L. Paul

Updated - May 17, 2024 09:02 am IST

Published - May 16, 2024 09:14 pm IST

The computerised driving test track at Puthen Cruz in Ernakulam district that is underutuilised.

The computerised driving test track at Puthen Cruz in Ernakulam district that is underutuilised. | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Jerin Nath, 36, based in Kochi, is unable to drive his recently purchased sedan. Nath, who owns a web design firm, is a first-time car owner and has a two-wheeler licence obtained in 2010. He started learning to drive a car in March.  “I got an SMS from the Transport department citing COVID-19 as the reason for not holding the test. This is strange,” says Nath, who welcomes the move to make roads safer, but is uncertain when he will be able to take the final test. Two-wheeler licence holders are exempted from appearing for the learner’s test.

Driving tests and training of applicants remained halted across Kerala since May 2 because of a stand-off between the Transport department and driving school operators over a circular issued in February with the aim of improving the quality of the tests. 

The 14 Regional Transport Offices (RTO) and 72 sub-RTO offices in Kerala conduct tests for approximately 1.5 lakh people each month.  

On February 22, the State Motor Vehicles department revamped the driving test format by introducing angular parking, parallel parking, zigzag driving, and gradient tests, which ought to be conducted on separate tracks, as part of the ground test. It also made it mandatory to have a dashboard camera and vehicle location tracking device fixed on driving school vehicles to monitor the road test. 

The circular drew the ire of driving school operators and the protests led to a complete halt in driving tests for a fortnight until the MVD diluted the circular on May 15, ending the imbroglio.

In fact, in the face of protests, the department had issued a revised circular on May 4 based on which 40 applicants can appear per day before a Motor Vehicle Inspector (MVI). The original circular in February had limited it to 30 from the earlier 60. It also said the test would be conducted on the ‘H’ track, until the new dedicated tracks for test components, as suggested in the revised format, were ready. 

But driving schools were unrelenting in their demand for further revision of the circular. Following conciliatory talks, the MVD on May 15 said it would give adequate time to switch to the new format. Further, the age of test vehicles shall be 18 years, and not 15 as stipulated earlier. Test vehicles with dual clutch and brake would continue to be permitted until an alternative system was in place. The department would provide dash cams for test vehicles. Motor Vehicle Inspectors from the department’s enforcement wing shall be deputed to clear the backlog and the validity of learner’s licence ’s licence could be extended, for a fee. Road tests would be done only after conducting test on ‘H’ track.  

In the wake of the thaw, the agitation was called off. A.K. Nazeer, vice president of Kerala Driving School Owners Kootayma, a confederation of driving school operators in the State, urged the government to take steps to clear the backlog of applications seeking licence. “There must be no further delay in augmenting infra and in readying tracks,” he said. 

In Kerala, the government is largely dependent on driving school operators, since the transport department has only 30 grounds to conduct tests; the rest are either owned or leased by driving school operators. The cars used at the time of the tests almost always are the ones provided by the driving schools.  

Driving school vehicles in Kerala have a dual clutch and brake system as it helps the trainer control the vehicle while coaching a learner. But the department wanted to ensure that these vehicles are not used for driving tests, as this has in the past led to allegations of MVD officials helping aspirants to pass the road test.  

Like Nath, nearly five lakh people are waiting to take the car and two-wheeler tests, say Transport department officials. Kerala has approximately 1.5 crore passenger and goods transport vehicles.  

Problems among commuters 

Anshitha Abdul Khadar from Wadakkancherry town in Thrissur district, studying to be a psychologist, was hopeful of obtaining two-wheeler licence to make her commute to college in Irinjalakuda town, located 41 km away in the same district, easier. “I was fed up with spending 90 minutes on three buses. And it wasn’t cheap,” she says, adding that she had to spend an additional ₹5,500 a month on hostel fee ever since she began residing near her college. She too is waiting for the tests to resume. Tests weren’t held in many places on May 16 as well owing to confusion over the revised rules.

Wadakkancherry has only an ‘H’ track for cars and an ‘8’ for two wheelers, says Rajesh N., who owns two driving schools in the area. “Even before the reforms, the failure rate in the tests was about 25%. The uncertainty about identifying proper test grounds and the lack of clarity about readying more tracks have created confusion. All this is happening even as the MVD has collected the fee in advance to hold tests,” he says. 

Aghil P.S., 21, from Thrissur, says, “I have lost a fair amount of confidence because there were no on-road training classes due to the stir,” adding that the stand-off came soon after the problems related to printing of driving licence cards. 

Sources in the Transport department hope driving tests will resume shortly, since the driving school operators called off the agitation, following Wednesday’s meeting with Transport Minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar.  

They wonder why driving school operators continued with their agitation for a week after the government heeded most of their demands and even agreed to allow vehicles aged above 15 years to be used for the tests. “It even increased the number of applicants per MVI from 30 to 40 and also permitted use of dual clutch/brake vehicles. Already, efforts are being made to purchase or take on lease test grounds, to lessen reliance on grounds of driving school operators. Plots owned by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation too will be used for this,” says a senior official.  

School operators’ demands 

But the driving school operators are far from satisfied. Ashraf Narimukkil, secretary of the Joint Samara Samiti, the coordination committee of all driving school associations, demands that the Transport department freeze the circular issued in February regarding holding of driving tests. Alleging corruption in the conduct of tests, he says a Vigilance probe should be counducted to see if people with little knowledge of driving safety norms or ethics obtain a driving licence.  

“The government must ensure that all the nine automated driving test tracks in the State are functional,” he says, referring to many of them remaining closed even after inauguration. These computerised facilities enable more efficient and transparent testing of the driving skills of licence-seekers, he adds.  

A high-ranking MVD official says the new set of reforms that were rolled out based on the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, amended in 2019, were long overdue. The amended rules speak of improving driving skills, to prevent accidents. “Implementing them will improve the quality of drivers, provided it is implemented in a phased manner,” he says.

Apart from that, the Edappal-based Institute of Driver Training and Research (IDTR) must provide refresher training to instructors of driving schools and even MVD personnel on the new test norms, he says. 

“The government must allot funds to purchase, rent or lease test tracks, and to build a waiting room and toilets. This will end infra and test-quality issues,”  says another official.

Graduated licencing system 

Former director of IDTR, Mohammed Najeeb, says India must introduce a graduated licencing system as in many other countries, whereby applicants will have to pass through multiple tests and a continuous monitoring system in order to obtain a driving licence and then keep it over the years. “This includes attitude and psychological tests,” he says. 

While crediting former DGP K.J. Joseph who during his tenure as Transport Commissioner over two decades ago took steps to improve the quality of driving tests by issuing a slew of circulars, he expresses concern at corruption making inroads into the department over the past few years. 

Retired Joint RTO G. Adarsh Kumar, who is the director of the Kochi-based SCMS Institute for Road Safety and Transportation (SIRST), also hopes to see a graduated licencing system. “Each driver ought to know the limitations of their vehicle and of roads. They must also have a fair idea of their vehicle and must learn to share the road with others.” 

Faced with inadequate land to be used as test ground for driving-licence seekers and driving school operators preventing tests on their grounds, MVD officials have been demanding at least one standardised ground in each district that has a gradient, a zigzag driving track, and a parking track to hold driving tests. This, they say, will enable candidates, including from RTO and sub-RTO offices to appear for the test in shifts, as in many other States. 

They rue how the MVD, which collects approximately ₹6,000 crore revenue each year for the government from vehicle owners and motorists, gets a raw deal in the form of ill-equipped and ill-maintained grounds where officials and candidates brave the elements for hours. There are no waiting rooms and toilets in most grounds. 

With the strike now called off, licence seekers like Anjana Vimal, an accounts executive from Ernakulam district, are hoping they will be allocated a time slot at the earliest to prevent expiry of their learner’s licence. “I was assigned May 14 as the test date, while my learner’s licence to drive a car will expire on July 1. Any delay will result in me having to take the learner’s test yet again,” she says.  

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.