License to kill dangers of corruption on Addis’ roads

“We have seen people failing to get their driving licenses, not because of their ability to pass the practical exam but because they failed to give a bit of ‘sugar’ to their instructors or others who determine if they pass or not. And it seems that the attitude of most driving inspectors boils down to four words: No bribe, no license.” This was said at a meeting organized by the Ethiopian Road Transport Authority (ERTA) on January 23.
Recent research by the Ethiopian Road Transport Authority (ERTA) finds that most driving schools are embedded with corruption with bribes being used as a shortcut to competency certificates. Minimizing period of training time, insufficient training and sexual bribery have also been observed at Kaliti Drivers and Mechanics Training Institute (KDMTI), according to ERTA’s research.
The licensing corruption involves a sordid network of persons that includes crooked driving school instructors and examiners. If an aspiring driver is not willing to play ball, testing conditions are roughened, making it impossible to pass, even with multiple attempts. Many unwilling participants are reluctantly made complicit to the corrupt system, consequently discharging unsafe drivers.
Trainees are expected to pass a theoretical exam after completion of 15 days of classes. However, instructors who are expected to give a minimum of 30 hours’ training, often do not do so accordingly – there are repeated cases of trainers not showing up for classes and requesting and expecting favors from trainees.
One needs only to have a diploma in Auto mechanics, two cars and a location for proving teaching lessons to open driving school. Currently, there are 250 driving schools in the Ethiopia with 50 concentrated in Addis Ababa. Trainers within such schools are expected to attend 12 hours training and 30 hours of practical exams before a government body examines them.
“A vehicle is a good means of transport but a dangerous weapon in the hands of reckless people and to have the best drivers we should have best driving schools that do their jobs honestly. I have seen people get licensed without attending schools – they just pay up to 12,000 birr to driving schools who have somebody in the transport authority to collaborate them,” said a 37 year old woman from Addis.
Such concerns are wide held and evidence shows that accidents are on the rise. According ERTA, in the 2015/16 year more than 3,847Ethiopians died due to traffic accidents related to drivers’ mistakes. In Addis Ababa more than 173 people died due to reckless driving and newly licensed drivers cause a shocking number of these deaths. Meanwhile, more people are on the road, unlicensed, according to Police statistics.
However, the blame cannot be attributed just to instructors and officials, according to Drivers Schools’ Association’s study on the matter. The report reveals incidents of trainees using corrupt means to attain their license – some dress seductively to sway instructors and sometimes give cash gifts, perfume, clothes and others even bring some food.
“We can’t say that all of the mistakes and corruption are made by the instructors alone, trainees also encourage corruption. Some dress provocatively and take the night exam to bribe instructors with sex. A look at condoms scattered in KDMTI give a clue as to how sexual bribery takes place.”
Despite trainees attempts at corruption, it is ultimately the transport authority who should solve the problem. KDMTI has a limited number of training institutes and examining instructors, one has to wait for a minimum of two months to be examined by the transport authority, crating further incentive for both trainees and instructors to engage in corruption.
Kassahun Aberra, Head of Drivers Competency Core Process in KDMTI, admits that the government’s management and monitoring of the schools has been poor but disagrees that driving licenses are being issued without practical and theory examination.
“People have the right to say what they want, but to know the truth they must check the reality of matters. To pass the practical exam, one must have a sum of points from several examiners not points by a single examiner. But I strongly believe that we should work more to control the driving schools and to increase the training institutes,” he said.
Despite KDMTI’s awareness of the dangers and the property and human loss of untrained drivers on roads, efforts to monitor and reprimand poor performance driving schools has been very weak. The Civil Service University remains the only institution offering a transport management course in a city where more than 25,000 people are issued driving licenses every year.
A foolproof system, with ample checks-and-balances, is what leads to one suitably acquiring a driver’s license. It means that any aspiring driver routinely invests quite a bit of honest, dedicated work and is subjected to fine scrutiny. When satisfied on competence, the licensing authority may issue a deserved license to drive. Road traffic safety issues are treated as a matter of life-and-death in most of the world and acceptably so. The same seriousness should be afforded to licensing procedures in Addis Ababa if the deaths of many citizens are to be prevented.