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SPECIAL FEATURE – Drive Me Crazy: is the system of learning how to drive making you nuts?

SPECIAL FEATURE – Drive Me Crazy: is the system of learning how to drive making you nuts?

Eva Fernandes explores rumours that learning how to drive in Dubai is nothing short of a time-consuming, infuriatingly tedious and ridiculously expensive affair.

June 23, 2011 3:55 by

Not one to generally make New Year’s resolutions, I did this year. I was going to attempt to do something I have put off for far too long, something I should have done a long time ago but just never had the determination and mindset to go ahead with. Was I trying to win the battle of the bulge or finally successfully quit smoking? No. My humble resolution was to finally get a driver’s license in the UAE.

Though getting a driver’s license in most other countries is a rite of passage, many like myself just dread the idea of going through with it in Dubai because of the horror stories we’ve heard from those who’ve tried. To begin with, before you can even have your first try in front of the wheel, there are piles of paperwork to be done for your file to be ‘opened.’ Then after that you have to shell out an indefinite amount of money in the thousands while you fail road test after road test for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

But I set aside all these daunting stories and decided that it was now time to toughen up, jump through all the various loops and pay them as much as they asked so I could join the group of shiny happy independent drivers. After all, how bad could learning how to drive really get?



Does “worst experience of my life” even begin to describe it?

Not only was it infuriating, painstakingly long and highly uninformative, it was disastrously expensive. By the time I had finally managed to get my license, I had gone for more than a 100 classes over a period of five months, braved six road tests and shelled out just under Dh13,000.

If you got your driver’s license in the early ‘90s, you might be shocked to know that getting a license has gotten as expensive as Dh13,000—but let me assure you I am not the exception. Consider the case of 35 year old Filipina Charmaine Hernane who got a driver’s license this May after shelling out Dh10,000 after four months of learning. Hernane, who works as a training coordinator at Knowledge Village, was pushed to get a driver license when she found out her new job required her to drive. She wasn’t looking forward to the experience: “I heard rumours that it is not easy here, but I said I will just give it try, I didn’t think it would take me this long and that it would be this expensive,” Hernane said with an uneasy chuckle.

Charmaine Hernane: “Be really prepared financially, and also mentally.

And though Hernane was fortunate enough to have her learning costs subsidised by her employer, as she continued to fail the road tests, she felt the pressure to get a license building up. When asked what advice would she give someone attempting to get their license, Hernane said: “I don’t think you can do anything to make it less expensive, because you don’t know on what basis they fail you. So all I would say is make sure you have more than enough money before you start because there is no stopping once you’ve paid Dh5,000 or more. Be really prepared financially, and also mentally. You have to be really prepared.”

Hernane’s words of wisdom strike me as particularly pertinent, for when I approached driving institutes to get a quick estimate before I committed, almost each one promised me the process should set me back no more than Dh4-5K. Of course, once you’ve paid the initial Dh5,000 it is pretty damn difficult to step away or start afresh.


I called up Ahmed Bahrozyan, the chief executive of licensing at the RTA to find out more of the RTA’s role in monitoring the prices driving institutes charge their students in Dubai. While he pointed out that driving institutes keep their prices relatively similar to stay competitive, he noted the most important thing was for the student to have the right to chose: “As long as the choice exists for the customer we do not get involved with the pricing that the driving institutes charge because it is the institute’s right to provide additional services and the customer has the right to pay for them, but as long he isn’t being forced to pay. “

Ahmed Bahrozyan: students can launch a complaint with the RTA and a special committee would than test the student


Bahrozyan noted the two reasons learning how to drive can get expensive in the UAE, is if the student has opted for a special program (VIP or Friday classes only) or if they keep failing their driving tests. In the latter case, Ahmed advices students to either switch institutes if they are not pleased with the training they are receiving (and approach the RTA if the institute isn’t cooperating with the transfer) or alternatively after failing five tests the student can launch a complaint with the RTA and a special committee would than test the student.

And though the possibility of opening a case with the RTA was something I heard of for the first time when I spoke to Bahrozyan, a student would have had to fail at least five classes before they could avail of this service. Before the fifth road test, the student would already paid and taken extra classes and tests.

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