Driving (Illustrative photo).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
The financial nightmare imposed by the bureaucratic driving instruction system in Israel is becoming an increasing burden that demands reform. For more than a month this has been compounded by a strike among driving examiners who oppose a Transportation Ministry initiative to reform the process and allow private companies to administer tests.
Currently, Israelis who wish to obtain a driver’s license must enroll at a driving school, where they are required to take a minimum of 28 lessons.
Here the nightmare for many begins. With a cost of around NIS 130 per lesson, that can amount to some NIS 4,000 by the time it is all over. Since the driving instructors decide when a student is ready for the test, it is in their interest to extend the number of lessons. In conversations with The Jerusalem Post, former students described taking up to 80 lessons rather than the minimum.
Before being allowed to take the state exam, the driving instruction companies often administer an internal test for students that may cost up to NIS 100 per time.
Once prospective drivers get past driving school, they enter the world of burdensome state bureaucracy.
To take the state exam, they must pay NIS 141 to the Transportation Ministry and another NIS 400-600 to the driving school for the use of its car for the exam.
A report last year noted that 80 percent of those taking the state test failed the first time. After having paid thousands of shekels for the lessons, why do so many fail? Students and parents claim that it is in the interest of the system that they fail, because it means more state exams and hence more money for the instructors and the state.
One student who failed four times said that, despite having practiced all her driving on the open avenues around the Knesset where there is a slim amount of traffic, the exam was conducted by making her drive through the narrow streets of Beit Safafa, an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem. That’s akin to learning to drive on a kibbutz in the Negev and then asking drivers to navigate the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood for a test. Another driver claimed that two of the times she was failed for minor infractions or being asked to drive in complex road situations that she was unprepared for. An oped in a local paper described paying more than NIS 8,000 to obtain a license.
Some Israelis have begun blogging about their experience obtaining a license. Many of them describe the same issues. The high costs of the lessons is only one part. Another burdensome feature is that the law does not allow for a learners permit, which is normal in other countries. This means they can’t do any practice at home or with experienced drivers, but are enslaved to paying for the numerous lessons and only can learn with instructors in specially equipped cars.
On top of the issues facing new Israeli drivers, many new immigrants have complained that the process of converting their original licenses is also financially burdensome and complex.
Many instructors argue that reforms would endanger the public by turning out less safe drivers. Despite the perception that Israel is one of the more dangerous countries to drive in, statistics actually show it is one of the safest countries in terms of fatalities in road accidents, similar to Denmark, the United Kingdom and Sweden. But is road safety correlated to the draconian costs imposed on drivers? The cost of driving lessons in Israel may be similar to that in Western states, but the number of lessons required and forcing students to drive only with driving school instructors makes the cost a massive burden for poorer and middle class families, the equivalent of a month or two of salary.
These costs dovetail with the another bureaucratic cost in Israel. The price of registering a car every year and passing an annual inspection is well over NIS 1,000 and is a time-consuming burden on drivers. Citizens get the understandable feeling that most of their lives in the country is spent waiting in lines, paying fees, and navigating bureaucracy that often feels like it has an element of corruption. The government must streamline this process for the driving public. The driving examiners may be on strike, but the driving public should be considered, too.