Getting your motor running is getting harder

New regulations toughen the process of obtaining driving licences

When you show up at the Land Transport Department to apply for a driver's licence, you will encounter a range of tests including traffic signs and a machine that tests ability to navigate in traffic. (Photos by Thanarak Khunton, Pattanapong Hirunard)

Academics have supported new regulations that make it harder for an applicant to obtain a driving licence and make it easier for authorities to seize licences from errant motorists to ensure more traffic law compliance.

They agreed with the proposed regulations requiring those applying for a car driving licence to pass a 15-hour course of driving lessons, saying the rules on issuing driving licences should be toughened.

Last Tuesday, the cabinet approved in principle the draft of Transport Ministry regulations requiring an applicant for a driver's licence to finish a course of lessons of at least 15 hours and pay up to 6,000 baht for them.

The regulations have been submitted to the Council of State for consideration and are expected to be enforced next year, according to the Department of Land Transport (DLT).

Sumet Ongkittikul, a researcher on transport and logistics policy at the Thailand Development Research Institute, voiced support for the regulations, saying they must be enforced as quickly as possible.

He stressed the need to stiffen the rules on issuing driving licences to make it tough for applicants to obtain their licences, and enable authorities to easily seize licences from motorists who break traffic laws.

"Under current regulations, the issuance of driving licences is very easy, but seizing them is difficult. The laws are lax and people do not obey. Many people drive without licences and they are not arrested. When arrested, they are fined only a few hundred baht," Mr Sumet said.

He said stricter traffic law enforcement on the part of authorities is also crucial to ensure road safety and curb road accidents.

According to the DLT, there are about 20 million motorcycles that are registered nationwide, but only 12 million people obtain licences to ride them.

This means that most of the motorcycle riders do not have driving licences, and this is probably one of the factors contributing to motorcycle-related accidents in the country, Mr Sumet said, adding that harsher measures and punishments are needed to deter traffic law violators.

Taweesak Taekratoke, a scholar from the Road Safety Group Thailand, said the proposal to increase the hours of driver training is nothing new.

The proposal has been discussed for about eight years and has been pushed by the National Health Assembly as part of efforts to curb road accidents, Mr Taweesak said.

He echoed the view that issuing driving licences must be toughened while driving licences must be easily and readily seized from motorists who break traffic laws.

"This way, motorists will be made to value and protect their driving licences by not breaking traffic laws, which in turn will help reduce road accidents," Mr Taweesak said.

Responding to complaints that it is too expensive to pay up to 6,000 baht for the driving lessons under the new rules, Mr Taweesak said that anyone who can afford to buy a car should also be able to afford to pay for the driving course.

An expensive driving course is also one way to make it hard to obtain a driving licence, he added.

Previously, required training hours were four before being raised to five on Jan 1.

Transport Ministry inspector-general Chirute Visalachitra, who is the ministry's spokesman, said the DLT still needs time to study in detail to gauge the readiness of privately run driving schools to comply with the new regulations requiring those applying for a personal car driving licence to pass a 15-hour course.

Mr Chirute said the 15-hour course will be divided into a five-hour course on general knowledge of traffic laws, four hours of driving on a training field, three hours of driving on actual roads and a three-hour course on general knowledge of car parts and devices.

As for the cost of driving lessons that were quoted to be 6,000 baht, he said that was an estimated ceiling of the cost of lessons and the DLT will still have to carry out more studies to find out what the proper rate should be before the new regulations are enforced.

Kamol Buranapong, deputy DLT director-general, said a total of 95 privately-owned driving schools are certified by the DLT as having a good and reliable standard in offering driving courses.

Schools will be required to pass a quality control programme in which they will be required to adopt an electronic classroom system.

Agreeing with the DLT's plan to tighten the driving licence regulations, Prommin Kantiya, director of the Accident Prevention Network (APN), said obtaining a driving licence in Thailand now is easy compared to many other countries.

Some countries now use a Graduated Driving Licensing System (GDLS).

During the first year of driving, drivers must have somebody capable sitting beside them at all times, and are only allowed to drive during the day, according to APN.

"Today, 30 million people hold a Thai driving licence," Dr Prommin said.

"Four thousand people apply for a new licence every day. These changes would make the system more efficient."

At present, regulations require recipients of a driver's licence to attend four hours of lectures and applicants are also not required to practice driving before receiving a licence.

"More hours of lecture and driving practice should become made mandatory because drivers who do not have enough experience on the roads could easily get into an accident," he said.

According to APN, 70 people are killed in road accidents in Thailand each day. Irresponsible drivers are the main factor, accounting for 90% of the accidents.

Thailand also ranked No.2 in the World Health Organisation's study of road fatalities in the world, with 44 road deaths per 100,000 people.

It was second only to Namibia, which had 45 road deaths per 100,000.

Fatalities from road accidents made up 5.1% of Thailand's overall deaths.

Dr Prommin said the plan of adding training and driving practice hours could help to a certain point, but it's still not enough in his opinion.

He said more road-safety campaigns aimed to educate people and tougher law enforcement would be needed as well if the country wants to reduce the death toll on the roads, which tends to spike dramatically during festivals such as Songkran.

"We need to ensure that applicants realise that it's not easy to get a licence in Thailand, but it will be easy for them to lose it if they are not a good driver," he said.

"A driver who repeats breaking traffic regulations must have his driving licence revoked."

Peerapan Anutarasetthi, a university student who plans to apply for a driving licence soon, said he was not happy with the new idea of adding training and driving practice hours because the cost of driving lessons that was quoted at 6,000 baht is too expensive for students.

He also did not want to spend hours watching video about traffic laws in a room provided by the Accident Prevention Network.

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