Lack of proper diligence while granting driving licence and inadequate law enforcement were resulting in a high number of road fatalities in Maharashtra, experts said.
According to the data shared by the Maharashtra transport department, 97.24 per cent of 32.04 lakh citizens who applied for driving licences had passed the tests, while only 2.4 per cent failed and 0.36 per cent did not turn up.
Among the 50 regional transport offices (RTOs) in Maharashtra, 14 had a failure rate of less than 1 per cent among driving test applicants, while only six had a failure rate of more than 5 per cent, the data said.
Failure rate below 0.50 per cent in some RTO offices
What is more serious is that in some RTO offices, the failure rate was below 0.50 per cent and a few had it more than 7-8 per cent.
Experts say it is difficult to understand how so many drivers were passing driving tests, considering the alarming number of accidents on state roads.
"With each passing day, we hear of horrific road crashes that claim lives of innocent people. The process of issuing driving licences needs to be improved to be able to critically assess the safe driving skills of applicants. This will ensure only skilled drivers are granted licences," said Ajay Gowale, project director of United Way Mumbai NGO.
Driving tests are conducted by RTOs to assess an individual's driving skills and knowledge of traffic rules and regulations. However, before taking the driving test, applicants have to acquire a learning licence, which is valid for six months.
Interestingly, compared to driving licence tests, the failure rate of learning licence tests was high in 2022, the transport department's records revealed.
Out of 18.80 lakh applicants for learning licences in 2022, 9.23 per cent (1.73 lakh) had failed the test, it stated.
As per the accident data shared by the transport department, at least 14,883 people were killed and 27,218 injured in 33,069 road crashes that occurred in the state last year.
Driving test is considered a mere formality
Experts have alleged that the driving test is considered a mere formality at most RTOs and a permanent driving licence is granted without properly testing driving skills. Such a low failure rate only highlights the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the system.
"Every poor driver once added to the streets is a threat to himself and others. Lakhs of such drivers will be on roads for decades to come," said Ranjit Gadgil, project director of NGO Parisar from Pune.
He further said that it will be impossible for India to halve its road crash fatalities and injuries by 50 per cent by 2025 as declared by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari or even by 2030 with unsafe and unqualified drivers.
Speaking on the issue, Vijaykumar Duggal, the director of 3A Road Safety Foundation, said as per rule 15 of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR), RTO officers must test applicants on 24 parameters, including adjusting mirrors and seat position, taking precautions before starting the engine, and signalling while taking a turn.
"The driving licence competence (DLC) test sheet is automatically generated by the Union government's Parivahan system for each applicant. The RTO inspector conducting the test should fill the sheet and upload it, but in Maharashtra, they neither note if all 24 parameters are checked, nor upload it on the system," Duggal claimed, adding that this lax approach is one of the reasons for the rise in road accidents.
A retired RTO official cited that unlike the existing smart card licences, the back page of the old licences used to come with the message - "driving is a privilege and not a right".
Hence, driving licences shouldn't be granted to incompetent drivers to save lives on roads, he said.
Maharashtra transport commissioner Vivek Bhimanwar said motor vehicle inspectors conduct driving tests and candidates pass or fail based on their judgment.
"To do away with the human judgment element, automatic test (driving) tracks are being developed. Presently, one such track has been set up in Pune and tenders will be issued for 18 others soon," the official said.
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