Controversy surrounds new driving license rules; stakeholders express doubt

According to the Motor Vehicle Act, applicants may no longer be required to undergo a driving test at the Regional Transport Office. Representational file image.

According to the Motor Vehicle Act, applicants may no longer be required to undergo a driving test at the Regional Transport Office. Representational file image.
| Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Driving school owners and transport activists have expressed skepticism regarding the new driving license rules issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, effective from June 1, 2024. While the Ministry claims that these new norms aim to enhance efficiency and simplify the licensing process, stakeholders are concerned that they may lead to misconduct and chaos, especially as training and testing will now be conducted by the same entity under the new license norms.

According to the Motor Vehicle Act, applicants may no longer be required to undergo a driving test at the Regional Transport Office (RTO). Instead, the driving test will be conducted at accredited private driving schools. Upon passing the test at these schools, applicants will receive a certificate, which they can use to apply for a driving license without undergoing further testing at the RTO. Additionally, the new rules mandate that driving training centers must occupy at least one acre of land, with a minimum of two acres required for four-wheeler training. While these rules were initially notified in 2021, the government is now looking to implement them from June onwards.

These rules have raised questions about accountability and affordability. Given the space constraints in cities like Mumbai, the implementation of these rules is being questioned. Critics argue that the requirement for large land parcels for driving tracks, especially in urban areas, is impractical and may hinder the execution of the new rules. An owner of a Mumbai-based driving school said, “If I had that much land, why would I open a driving school? The RTO themselves don’t have enough space to accommodate; how does this help us? We are already thinking about how these rules will be executed without having enough infrastructure in place.”

The Motor Driving School Owners Association from Maharashtra State has criticized the new provisions, deeming them unsustainable. They argue that these rules may lead to corruption and the closure of many small motor driving schools. “They are unnecessary as our driving school already follows a prescribed syllabus and issues certificates. Providing training and driving tests could foster corruption. I strongly oppose the establishment of accreditation centers, which would likely be dominated by corporate interests. This move could force the closure of many small motor driving schools, leading to unemployment among thousands of owners, instructors, and employees,” said Raju Ghatole, President Motor Driving School Owners Association, Maharashtra.

Mr. Ghatole added, “It’s crucial to mandate that all driving licenses come from government-recognized motor driving schools to ensure proper education in traffic rules and reduce fatal accidents, especially among young individuals. Additionally, the requirement for large land parcels for driving tracks, especially in urban areas, is impractical and should be reconsidered.”

Former Additional Commissioner of Transport, Satish Sashtrabudhe, has also expressed concerns about the safety implications of entrusting such responsibilities to private schools. He questions the qualifications required beyond diplomas and the determination of driving experience. He also raises doubts about whether a single entity can serve as both a training and testing institute without conflicting interests. “Will the experience be determined based on the years the person holds the license or the years he actually drove the vehicle?”

In response, Transport Commissioner Vivek Bhimanwar has assured that institutes will only receive accreditation if they comply with the provisions. He said, “the monitoring of tests by officials to prevent any misconduct. Additionally, the Ministry has initiated financial assistance programs for driving training centers, but uptake has been limited due to capacity building requirements.”

The Ministry of Transport started an IDTR financial assistant of up to ₹18.5 crore per IDTR and ₹5 crore per RDTC, in 2014. It also grants 50% of the project cost or up to ₹1 crore per Driving Training Centre. “For this kind of assistance, hardly anyone has turned up given the capacity building it will require. So, if the government keeps imposing such provisions it will be difficult to conduct business. Within 8 years, India had 29 IDTR centers with Maharashtra having three IDTR, wherein 300 centres were promised, where is the roadmap for that?” said Mr. Ghatole.

Overall, stakeholders are urging for a reconsideration of the new rules to address concerns about accountability, affordability, and safety in the issuance of driving licenses.