Radical road reform to be implemented

Change will see younger drivers, fewer lessons, but longer ‘chaperone’ period.

By RON FRIEDMAN
August 6, 2010 03:04
Traffic jam on Ayalon Highway.

Traffic jam on Ayalon 311 . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

 
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In an effort to reduce fatal accidents caused by young drivers, the Transportation Ministry is set to implement a comprehensive reform in driver’s training.

The anticipated changes include the introduction of a gradual licensing framework and a classroom curriculum in driving, reducing the minimum number of lessons from 28 to 24, and lowering the driving age by three months, to 16 years and nine months.

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On Wednesday, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) met with industry leaders to discuss the plan’s details.

The reform was first promoted in 2007, when current Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz was minister, but failed to be implemented.

Now, ministry officials say, the reform has the full backing of the minister and is prepared to go into final legislation and full implementation.

The specifics of the initiative were hashed out in a three-anda- half hour meeting between Katz, ministry officials and representatives of some of the nation’s many driving instructors associations.

“The reform will, for the first time, bring about a much needed change to driving culture in Israel and reduce the involvement of young people in traffic accidents. It will improve the aptitude of driving students, while emphasizing road safety,” Katz said. “Our commitment is to the Israeli drivers and the public in general.”

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A key feature of the plan is the creation of driving-instruction centers. The centers will replace the current setup where a student makes arrangements directly with a driving instructor and takes all the lessons in the instructor’s vehicle.

Students will instead enroll in local driving schools where they will take a series of classes on topics like road safety rules, correct driving behavior and problem- solving techniques, before they first take to the road with the instructors.

Another major change will be the creation of a 12-lesson theoretical curriculum. These lessons will prepare students for the driving theory test, and also equip them with knowledge to better operate their vehicles while on the road.

Veteran driving instructor and National Driving Instructors Association spokesman Avi Kramer, said a classroom curriculum was vital for the training of good drivers.

“Today, a student who plans to take the driving test in September doesn’t bother to learn about how to drive under wet road conditions. If an instructor tries to take the time to teach the principles, the students blame them for wasting time, claiming it’s not necessary for them to know how to do it because it won’t rain before their test. The curriculum will give instructors the chance to pass on their wealth of knowledge, even about things that won’t be examined in the road test. This will lead to better and more well rounded and prepared young drivers,” Kramer said.

Due to the added cost of the classes, the ministry decided to reduce the minimum amount of lessons required before taking a road test from 28 to 24.

The reform will also introduce a licensing framework that has long been used in other developed countries like the United States and Australia. The reform will allow new drivers to experience driving gradually, with three main stages, before they are allowed to drive on their own.

The first stage will begin when the applicant turns 16 and a half. The student will be able to register with a driving instruction center and begin learning to drive. They can apply to take a road test at the the age of 16 and nine months, rather than at 17 as is currently the case.

After passing the test, new drivers will have to undergo six months of chaperoned driving before they can drive on their own. During the first three months, the driver will need an adult escort at all times, and during the second three months, the young drivers will be allowed to drive on their own during the day, but will continue to require an escort while driving at night.

Shmuel Abuav, director-general of the Or Yarok road safety advocacy group, said he was pleased with the proposal.

Young drivers were much more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than other drivers and their tendency to have their first driving experiences at night was a recipe for disaster, he said.

“Our studies show that young drivers tend to be involved in a disproportionate amount of accidents and that a main cause of those accidents is overconfidence on the part of the driver,” Abuav said. “Young drivers believe they have strong driving skills, but they don’t have the necessary driving experience.

Combine overconfidence with the difficult driving conditions that the young drivers experience when they first drive on their own and accidents are just waiting to happen.”

Abuav said that in the current situation, many young drivers’ first chance to drive alone takes place at night, while going out with friends.

“A new driver gets in a car with two or three friends.

They go out late at night.

Often they drink alcohol and return home in the early hours of the morning. The driver’s friends exert peer pressure on the driver to drive faster and take more risks.

This is a dangerous mix that can lead to tragic results.

Under the new, gradual system, young drivers can gain experience driving alone during the day and driving with an escort at night, and better prepared for the challenges when they are finally allowed to drive solo,” he said.

Abuav’s only criticism of the reform was that it took such a long time for it to go ahead.

“Everything was known and on the table three years ago. There is no reason for something so important and lifesaving to take such a long time to go through the bureaucracy,” he said.

Kramer said the reform was perfectly acceptable to a majority of the driving instructors, and that there was absolutely no professional reason to delay its implementation.

“Thousands of instructors have already gone through the necessary training to teach under the new requirements and on our end everything is ready to go,” he said.

The reform bill is expected to be voted on at the start of the Knesset’s winter session in October and ministry officials said they thought it would be ready for implementation before the end of 2011.

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