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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Step-by-step guide to getting a driving licence in UAE

The date May 5, 2016, will go down in history as the day I FINALLY got my Dubai driving licence. My friends got a huge cake and celebrations went on for months. My parents were proud - I doubt they were as proud when I got my first job.

For my 7th driving test attempt, (yes, I know you're laughing, and if you got your licence in the first attempt, you can talk to my disinterested hand), my friends had advised me to dress up like a CEO - no sports shoes or denims.

The night before the exam, random memories captivated my mind, in no particular order:

Me, taking gruelling driving lessons for ONE. ENTIRE. YEAR! Needless to say I spent an amount with which I could have easily bought a second-hand car.

Me, thinking I am incompetent and an embarrassment to repeatedly fail the tests when my friends cleared in the first attempt like it was a piece of cake. They made me want to dunk my head in a pool of mud.

Me, getting mocked at by friends, who laughed disdainfully and said, "your feet won't reach the accelerator", as I am not tall enough.

Me, slowing down in the middle of the road, thinking there's a yellow-painted speedbraker ahead, when in reality it was just a patch of sunlight. (D'uh!)

Me, crying in front of my parents on a Skype call. Their advice? "It's just a driving test. It's not the end of the world. Not everyone can champion everything. Maybe driving is not your thing. Take a break and focus on other things in life."

The next morning during my test, when I got behind the wheel for my 7th attempt, it felt as if my soul left my body and I was having a near death experience without the angels.

But, by some miracle, I gave a Michael Schumacher-like performance. I was dressed up like a CEO, I pretended I wasn't scared, and I passed.

I PASSED!

It took a long time to sink in when I was told I had passed. Ah that feeling! I wanted to bask in that glory forever.

Turns out my story is all too common for aspiring drivers in the UAE. More so, for those in the Asian community.

Why is it difficult for Asians to get a UAE driving licence?
Dubai resident Sumith Suvarna who got his licence in the 11th attempt, said, he wasn't able to switch jobs in Dubai without a driving licence. Being a marketing professional, every company he interviewed with needed him to drive. For him, a licence was more than an educational qualification. "I have a BE degree from India. But obtaining a UAE driver's licence was no less than a post graduate degree," he said.

He drove for more than 10 years in Mangalore, India, but for getting a UAE licence, he had to unlearn those old driving skills.

"There isn't much discipline on Indian roads. We butt in our cars wherever we find space. But here people are stricter about following rules. Now when I go back to India and drive, I feel scared and annoyed at the way others drive. It's like a complete war, and in wars you don't tell your enemies your next move," he added.

Another Dubai resident Prathna Achpalia, who got 14th time lucky in the UAE, had five years of driving experience in Mumbai, India. Yet, the pain and agony she faced for more than a year to obtain a UAE driving licence is something she will never forget.

"At first I registered for manual driving. After failing five times, I changed to automatic gear, thinking it would be easier. Even that didn't help. Then I changed back to manual driving and cleared the test in my 14th attempt. My husband insisted me to keep trying, else I would have given up for sure," she added.

If you have read till here and are still determined to get a licence, it leads us to our next question...

Do you really need a driving licence in the UAE? If so, how to get one?
UAE offers a variety of public transport options, which have proved to be very efficient in helping people get to work, social meets and practically to any location in the UAE. However it's still a great idea to be able to drive yourself to wherever, whenever.

Aspirants have to enroll in an authorised driving school. If you are 18-21 years of age, you can apply for a probationary licence.

Authorised Driving Schools
Al Ahli Driving School: 04-3411500 (10 branches)
Belhasa Driving School: 04-3243535 (18 branches)
Dubai Driving Center: 04-3455855 (13 branches)
Emirates Driving Institute: 04-2631100 (53 branches/mall counters)
Galadari Driving School: 04-2676166 (14 branches)
Who qualifies for training?
If you do not have prior driving experience or possess a licence that is not from any of these 36 approved countries, you must undergo training:
Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States. (Please call RTA on 8009090 for any changes to this list)
Driving licence holders of some countries in the above list will require translations or consulate letters. These countries include:
(i) Canada: A letter from the Canadian Consulate in Dubai to verify that the licence is genuine is required.
(ii) Driving licence holders from Greece, Canada, Cyprus, Poland, Turkey, Japan & South Korea will require a translation of their driving licence from their respective consulates.
The required documents for conversion are a valid original driving licence, valid residence visa issued by Dubai, a completed form for replacement of licence, No Objection letter from sponsor to replace licence and Optometry form accredited by the health authority in Emirate Location.
(Info sourced from Government of Dubai website)

Steps for learners:
1. Register for a driving licence course in one of the authorised driving schools by opening your RTA file. Students can opt to register for either automatic or manual gear transmission for their car driving licence. However, automatic licence holders are not allowed to drive a manual gear vehicle.
Documents required: Passport (original and copy) with residence stamp, No-Objection Certificate from employer and eight photos.
Eye test: You need to get an eye test done either with an optician or at your driving school. The receipt of the test must be submitted at your driving school.
2. Theory Test: The training course begins with theory lectures and it is mandatory to take all the lectures for 8 hours before starting practical training classes. 
(i) The theory test is carried out at the five authorised driving schools.
(ii) Don't forget to carry a relevant ID, driving file, two photos and theory test fee of Dh200.
(ii) A total of 35 questions on road signals, hazards and guidelines on safe-driving will be asked in either English, Arabic or Urdu, with more languages to be added later. Candidates who cannot read the touch-screen or are not computer literate can take the examination orally.
(iii) The first segment with 17 questions focuses on general traffic situations, and the candidate will need to answer a minimum of 11 correct to pass.
(iv) The second segment has 18 questions related to the specific driving licence the candidate requires and a minimum of 12 correct answers are required to be eligible for the road test.
(v) From July 2015, a new segment was added to the Theory test. Called Risks Recognition Test, the test contains a few videos that depicts specific environmental conditions and asks the driver how he/she can cope with them.
3. There is a pre-evaluation test for students who have signed up for 30 and 20 classes to evaluate their driving experience.
4. After passing the theory test and pre-evaluation test (if required), students can begin their practical training.
(i) Students who do not possess any driving licence (from any country) have to register for 40 classes.
(ii) Students possessing their country's licence which is 2-5 years old have to take 30 classes.
(iii) Students possessing their country's licence which is more than 5 years old have to take 20 classes.
5. After your practical training classes, your course-in charge will advise you to book your RTA parking test and assessment test.
6. After clearing your assessment test, you will complete your highway training before going for the final road test. 
7. Road Test: On the date assigned, go with your passport, driving file, two photos to the RTA Licence Section as advised by your driving school. Fill up an application form and submit fees (around Dh200 for the road test). When your name is called out, go along with the other three candidates and the RTA inspector to the designated car. You will be given just a few minutes to demonstrate your driving skills.
If you fail, you will have to register with your driving school for at least seven more classes and get a new road test date.
If you pass, collect the approval paper from your inspector and go to the Pass Counter. Submit a suitable ID and Dh100. Collect your test file and submit to the Control Counter. After processing, pay the required fee. In a few minutes, you will receive your DL and be eligible to drive in Dubai and the UAE. Congratulations!
Other caveats 
1. Refresher Course: If you already have a valid UAE driving licence and only need practice, you can apply for this course. It includes 8 practical training classes. You can take 4 minimum classes also.
2. Simulator Training: All students registered for 40 classes will have to attend 1 session of Simulator prior to starting their training classes.
3. Solo Training: This is mandatory for 40 classes' course and is optional for 30 and 20 classes' course.
4. People who have a valid UAE driving licence from any emirate other than Dubai need to get their driving file transferred from that emirate to Dubai RTA before opening a file for any other vehicle category.
6. People who possess a valid GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) licence have to take two theory lectures at the beginning of the course. Then they have to take the RTA Knowledge test, parking test and the road test.
7. People who have any traffic fine in their name will not be able to open a file until the fine is cleared.
8. People who have opened any driving file before with other institute should transfer their file.
(Caveats sourced from Emirates Driving Institute's website)
Tips for theory test
1. You should read the RTA handbook thoroughly
2. Take mock theory tests here.
3. Practice on the RTA mobile app
Resources:
Traffic Sign Test: Try to memorise the common road signs and take a traffic sign test online here.
Tips for road test
1. Dress like a CEO: On your test day, dress up like you're some big shot executive. Not only would it give a good impression to your examiner, but he/she might feel that you're a busy person and shouldn't spend a lot of time trying to get a licence. 
2. Do not wear sunglasses: It's strongly recommended that you avoid wearing sunglasses. The examiner would want to see your eye movements while driving and changing lanes. 
3. Just obey: Do what your examiner says, don't argue or ask questions.  
4. Remember the first few steps: Adjust your seat, mirrors and fasten your seat belt. Don't forget! Make sure you always tell other people sitting in your car to fasten their seat belts as well.
5. Check Handbrake: You must check the handbrake and make sure your vehicle is in the correct gear before you start.
6. Maintain a good speed: Don't drive too slow or too fast. Drive confidently within the speed limit.
7. Entering the main road: When entering the road, wait at the "Stop" sign for at least 3 seconds, even if the lane is clear. If you don't, then you FAIL the test. It is a considered as a significant error.
8. Keep a safe distance: Keep two seconds between you and the car in front of you.  
9. Changing lane: This is one of the most crucial things that examiners like to check. When asked to change lane, check both the rear view and side mirrors. When all's clear, don't miss to check the blind spot, then turn on the indicator. Speed up your vehicle, stay within the speed limit, and then slow down again after changing the lane.
10. T-Junction: When turning onto a main road from a secondary road at a T-junction, stop before the "STOP" line for at least 3 seconds, even if the road is clear. Enter safely at a relaxed pace, then speed up gradually to stay within the speed limit.
11. Hard Brakes: Don't apply hard brakes. Drive at a comfortable pace and start slowing down when you spot a vehicle or traffic signal nearby. If you apply hard brakes and sway, your examiner would think you don't have control of your car. 
12. Roundabouts: Never enter a roundabout, unless the road is clear from the left side. Remember, you always have to give RIGHT indicator while exiting.
13. Parking: If the examiner asks you to park your car at the side, do not park in front of any entrance, gate or at a bus stop.
(Source: Khaleej Times)

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