UAE plans single nationwide driving test, as experts say automatic licences for new residents should stop

Officials believe the emirates different learning systems could be simpler

ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 09APR2015 - White and orange driving school cars teaching driving to the residence around the Emirates driving company in Mussafah in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K /The National (to go with Ramona story for News) *** Local Caption ***  RK0904-Drivingschools09.jpg
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The UAE has begun the process to create a single driving test across the Emirates to ensure motorists are being tested to the same standards.

At present, each emirate has its own criteria and process for a learner to obtain a UAE licence.

That is likely  to change, according to a senior official from Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), who was speaking Serco Middle East's annual road safety event in Ghantoot.

At the same event transport experts called for the abolition of the system that allows motorists from countries - including the US, UK, Japan and Australia - to automatically acquire a UAE licence when they arrive, without having to sit a test. The authorities are not believed to back such a move.

Hind Almuhairi, acting director of the RTA's Driver Training and Qualifications Department, told The National that the standardised test for the seven emirates was being looked at by officials already.

“We are part of a committee that was recently set up by the Minister of Interior,” she said.

“The aim of the committee is to identify the best practices across all the emirates and refine them, so there are no differences between the driving tests in different emirates across the country.”


Hind Almuhairi, Deputy Director at Dubai Road and transport authority, at Serco Road Safety Demonstration Day in the Golden Tulip Al Jazira Hotel and Resorts.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Hind Almuhairi from the RTA speaks to attendees in Ghantoot on Sunday. Reem Mohammed / The National

Ms Almuhairi said the project, which began just over a month ago, is needed because there are too many differences between the emirates in what is required to obtain a licence.

“Some emirates require you to take a certain number of compulsory lessons while others do not,” she said.

“In other cases there are significant differences in what is involved in the driving tests themselves.”


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She said that the number of drivers on UAE roads who learnt to drive outside the country created major problems when it came to safety.

“The average age of people taking their tests in the UAE is 23 to 28, which means many of them have learnt to drive in other countries before they come here,” she said.

“Dubai has unique roads that sometimes make it difficult for people from different cultures. It is often easier for them to go back to how they would drive in their own countries which, in turn, makes it difficult for other drivers to predict their movement.”

She also said that officials from the RTA, as well as other members of the Federal Traffic Council across the UAE, are monitoring the removal of the 20km per hour buffer zones in Abu Dhabi.

“All the other emirates are keeping an eye on what’s happening in Abu Dhabi before making a decision on whether to remove the speed buffer zones as well,” she said.

“We are waiting to get the official report back about the removal of the buffer zones. If the figures are positive, then why not adopt it as well?”


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David Greer, chief executive at Serco Middle East, which runs Dubai Metro and a wide range of public and private sector buildings, went one step further in suggesting that the current scheme of automatically issuing licences to new residents should be scrapped entirely.

“You see the diversity of people in the UAE and they have very different attitudes and standards when it comes to driving here,” he said.

“The road conditions in some of those countries are far removed from what we have here.”

Mr Greer said many drivers are not prepared for the speeds allowed on the country's roads.

“You are putting people on these roads, who come from countries where the average speed might only be 35mph (56kph), with other road users who are travelling at extremely high speeds,” he said.

“This is unfamiliar territory for a lot of people. They are like a fish out of water, the environment we have here is vastly different.”


 Thomas Edelman, managing director of Road Safety UAE listens to David J. Greer OBE, CEO of Serco Middle East, at Serco Road Safety Demonstration Day in the Golden Tulip Al Jazira Hotel and Resorts.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Serco Middle East chief executive David Greer, left, and RoadSafetyUAE founder Thomas Edelmann. Reem Mohammed / The National

These differences include driving alongside high-powered vehicles, the likes of which many people have not seen in their own countries, and longer braking distances, which are not always easy to judge.

Mr Greer said it is not uncommon in other countries to have to take a mandatory driving test regardless of the driver’s road history in other countries.

“There should not be an automatic transfer for anyone until they have proved they can cope with driving in this country,” he said.

“One of the biggest risks is having people who are used to driving buses or heavy goods vehicles in slow-moving traffic, in their own countries, and then suddenly allowing them to be unleashed on high-speed roads here,” he said.

He also welcomed the news that other emirates could follow Abu Dhabi’s lead by removing the 20kph buffer zone.

“I don’t know of any other country where the speed limit is an arbitrary 20kph above the speed limit signs,” he said.

“It is an alien concept for foreigners coming here and I think it would be much more helpful if we had a prescribed speed limit as posted on the signs.”