The driving license test in Nepal used to be an absolute mess. Proper driving skills and handy knowledge of traffic rules would get you through the short written test and the subsequent trial. But if you didn’t want to go through the whole hassle (or if you badly fluffed the test), never mind. You could always pay the ‘license brokers’ a few thousand rupees and the license of your choice would be hand-delivered to your doorstep. Another popular way of obtaining a driving license was to import it from the mofussil, where the rules were easier to bend. This widely-abused license regime in the country was believed to be one of the big contributors to rising road accidents.
The numbers are sobering. In a year’s time, between mid-2011 to mid-2012, the number of road accidents in Nepal more than doubled, from 4,000 to over 8,000. The fatality rates have also been steadily climbing for the last half a decade, hitting an abysmal 160 in mid-2012. Thank god, something finally is being done to fix this mess.
The Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) in Kathmandu last year toughened the provisions to obtain a driving license. By implementing simple measures like barring the entry of license brokers (who act as middlemen between the relevant license officials and driving test takers) from trial area and penalizing the driving institutes that modify their vehicles to make it easier for examinees to clear the test, issuance of forged licenses has gone down by half: after the introduction of these measures, the pass rate for examinees on trial dropped from 60 percent to 30 percent.
Rather than waiting for leadership to do every little thing, initiative for vital reforms can start at the line agencies.
This is good news when one considers the sheer number of incompetent drivers the new measures have helped keep off the road. But it is also terrible news, as it indicates that nearly half the current license holders might not have requisite driving skills. Thankfully, the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) is implementing the measures adopted in Kathmandu across the country.
We believe there is a greater need for such bottom-up initiatives from government line agencies. Rather than waiting for government leadership to do every little thing, the initiative for vital reforms can start at the line agencies. The egregious irregularities in the issuance of driving license were a constant reminder of an incompetent state. But in the country that is in a difficult transition, it is not always possible for the government to implement even well-intended programs.
This makes the presence of strong line agencies that are ready to take up new initiatives on their own all the more important. Like road safety, many other areas of public interest would benefit with a more proactive bureaucracy. It is too early to speculate about the nationwide success of the new driving license directive—for one, there are many more impediments to effective policy implementation outside the capital. But irrespective of the final results, this innovative initiative of a government agency noted more for its deep inherent flaws than for finding enterprising solutions, is appreciable in itself