Getting a driving license could become more difficult

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Driving test. Source: ERR

The three-month long queues for practical driving tests in Estonia have led the Transport Administration to look into ideas in shortening the queues and making the process of getting a driving license more complicated.

"Since the exam queues are very long, there have been questions raised if some vehicle categories could be handed over from the state to the private sector, who would also conduct exams," Transport Administration mobility service department head Joel Jesse told ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Wednesday.

This option has been discussed before for motorcycle and tractor licenses, but an analysis into if and how this could actually be done is still ongoing.

Jesse said the main reason for the long queues is insufficient preparation for exams. "If we look at the first-time passing rates of B-category tests, which is 43 percent, the current preparation is relatively low and people who reach the state driving and theory exams are not ready for them," Jesse said.

So the administration is planning on reinstating a theory and driving exam requirement for driving schools, an obligation that was removed in 2013. The number of required driving hours is also set to be increased - from 30 currently to possibly 40. The administration also wants to begin issuing quality labels to driving schools from September.

"So people who come to the driving school could first go over the so-called statistics and see who has been issued a label for quality, they have high pass rates," Jesse said. He noted that there is actually a lack of quality supervision for driving schools, which is also in the plans.

"People change in time and there is no one reason. Part of the problem is on the teachers' side and part of it is on legislation," said Estonian Driving Schools Association board chair Neeme Külmallik. He does not see too much of an issue in the high failure rates for first-time exam takers, as the rate is around 50-55 percent across Europe.

Külmallik said Estonia's exam results could be improved by restoring driving school exams. "While it is not an complete solution, I hope this could make things better," he said, adding that there are schools that still conduct exams, but many "give students their certificate and send them on their way".

At the same time, Külmallik does not support increasing the number of required driving hours. "I do not want to believe our people are so much dumber and worse," he said.

The driving school union head added that the number of required driving hours in Europe is much lower than in Estonia and there are even countries where no limits have been set. "Examiners are not interested if the exam-taker drove two or 200 hours in driving school, there is a level set and it must be exceeded," Külmallik noted.

He said people go to driving school at different levels. "(Increasing required driving hours - ed) would instead affect those who can practice at home, are motivated and make an effort to get a driving license," Külmallik said. He noted that a third of people in his driving schools could likely pass exams with 30 required driving hours and that most students get an extra 10-15 hours in.

The driving school manager said there is an ongoing process of trying to cast blame on the driving schools instead of noting the state's incomplete work. He said one of the reasons for delays are the long queues for exams, which has led to a situation where, in principle, a third grade student passes swimming courses, but can display it in three months. Külmallik said more examiners must be hired to shorten the queues.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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