The Traffic Department’s effort to tackle the serious issue of road safety was bolstered by a law that came into effect yesterday, establishing minimum requirements for driving school programmes.
Driving schools are now required to provide learner drivers with a minimum of 15 hours of driver theory courses and 35 hours of practical training, including the use of driving simulators. Most schools are in the process of installing the new simulation equipment, expecting to have them ready for learner drivers by next week. Only about half of Qatar’s driving schools, however, have expanded their programmes to include the 15 hours of theory classes and some only require 20 hours of practical driving training before being allowed to take the driving test. School curricula are to include traffic laws, regulations, safe driving principles, basics of vehicle mechanics and first aid.
Traffic Department officials are authorised to shut down schools that don’t comply with these regulations for one month for the first violation, and three months for repeated violations. The learners will be sent to a competing school at the violator’s expense. The Government will also be closely monitoring the schools, keeping tabs on their records and inspecting their facilities regularly.
The Traffic Department is also set to release a manual which will set the standard for traffic regulations and safe driving procedures. This manual will become the core of the curriculum for driving schools, but according to Robert Makoldo, Director of Karwa Driving School, the manual has not been released and so it is not yet clear what the new government requirements will be.
The new traffic law was first put in place in 2007, but it seems some schools were not aware of the new regulations when contacted by the Gulf Times last week. The government had given close to four years for the schools to get ready to follow the new measures aimed at enhancing road safety by equipping new drivers with modern training.
Over the last five years there has been an average of 227 road accident fatalities per year, with a high of 270 in 2006. Last year there were 744,266 recorded traffic violations, but this statistic does not reflect the complete picture, as most cases of hazardous driving go unrecorded.
Letters to the Gulf Times frequently complain about reckless and dangerous driving on Qatar’s roads. Gulf Times reader Bundu Basher said: “I feel many people show no road courtesy in general and it is reflected not just in the using of lanes near roundabouts; it covers just about everything. Most drivers seem oblivious of other road users and change lanes haphazardly without signalling. And when they do use a signal, they assume they can cross no matter if the lane you want to enter in is clear or not.”
While reforming driving schools is an important first step to developing a culture of road safety and defensive driving, more must still be done to get drivers not to use their mobile phones, to be patient and courteous and acknowledge other users of the road, another reader said.
A learner is practising in a simulator at a driving school.
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